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TorahAnytimes Newsletter Devarim

Parshat Devarim

Compiled and Edited by Meir Sommers


"The TorahAnyTimes" Newsletter       Print Version

Parashat Devarim 
6th of Av, 5777 | July 29, 2017

Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik

Mr. Charlie Harary 
The Name on the Front

You may have heard the name: Herb Brooks. He coached the 1980 United States hockey Olympics team after retiring as a player himself and leading his alma mater, the Minnesota Golden Gophers, to three NCAA championship titles in the 1970s. But Herb Brooks’ U.S. hockey team was not what you imagine. The roster did not consist of all-time professional athletes; it consisted of a group of amateur college students. But even that wasn’t the biggest of their problems.

Of the twenty players on the roster, thirteen came from rival universities. Nine hailed from the University of Minnesota and four from Boston University. It was just four years before, in 1976, that a raging fight broke out between the Minnesota and Boston teams at a semifinals hockey championship, with punches being thrown left and right. Since then, these teams had not been friends, but vehement foes. And now, many of these same players who had previously been unforgiving rivalries were asked to be teammates and work together. It was a tall order. But that still wasn’t the entire picture.

The United States did not enter the Olympics merely to have fun; they wanted to win. But against whom would they have to contend? The Soviet Union who had won the gold medal in the previous six of seven Winter Olympics. And the Soviet team was not comprised of amateurs; they were stacked with a professional lineup of international players. It need not be said that the dichotomous and amateur U.S. squad, which was also the youngest national team, was a far cry from matching up against the all-time Soviets.

But Herb Brooks was a fearless leader who was determined to persevere and contend against the long-standing champions. Brooks was ready to push his team to the brink and teach and train them to seamlessly play with creativity, flow and teamwork. He would work them to exhaustion and condition them to be the best. But there was one problem.

Brooks was ready for all of this, but only Brooks. His team wasn’t. They weren’t ready to push aside their differences and become a cohesiveness unit where talent would meet teamwork and preparation would meet opportunity. And that was a major problem.

Months before the opening of the Olympics, exhibition play began as the U.S. team stepped onto the ice rink to practice for the real games up ahead. But then came September 17th and the United States faced the Norwegian national team, only to end off the final score at a 3-3 tie. Coach Brooks wasn’t happy. As he saw it, his team wasn’t working hard enough and performing their best. And so, as Coach Brooks let the team know, if they didn’t work during the game, they would work after it.

As the final whistle blew, Brooks directed his team back onto the ice and forced them to skate suicides as the arena emptied out. Red line, back. Blue line, back. Far blue line, back. Far red line, back. Over and over and over. Again and again and again. Even after the custodians turned off the lights, the team continued skating in the dark. “Again!” demanded Brooks.

Why was Brooks making them do this? He himself answered that question. When the team had previously introduced themselves at a practice after two rivaled players broke out in a fight, here’s how it went: “Jack O’Callahan, from Charlestown, Massachusetts.” “And what team do you play for?” “Boston University.” Next player. “What team do you play for?” “University of Minnesota.” “And you?” “University of North Dakota.” “And you?” “University of Wisconsin, Coach.”

Now here stood the team months later, exhausted, skating back and forth, up and down the ice. They could do better, become bigger and play as a team. But they needed to work as a team. “When you pull on that jersey,” yelled Coach Brooks, “you represent yourself and your teammates. And the name on the front is a lot more important than the one on the back!” “Again!” barked Coach Brooks, as the whistle blew for the umpteenth time.

Hours later, every single player without exception was exhausted and on the verge of collapsing. But Coach Brooks was still not done. Turning towards the assistant coach, Craig Patrick, he gave the signal for the whistle to be blown yet another time. “Again,” he firmly said. But Patrick couldn’t bring himself to do it. He couldn’t bear seeing the squad painfully move any further. “Again,” repeated Coach Brooks.

At that point, the lesson was learned.

“Mike Eruzione, Winthrop, Massachusetts!” Coach Brooks paused. “Who do you play for?” “I play for the United States of America.”

Brooks paused again. “That’s all gentlemen.” And with that, Brooks walked off the ice, knowing that his team had now seared the lesson into their heart and mind: “The name on the front is a lot more important than the one on the back.”

The 1980 United States hockey team went on to earn the gold medal that year, upsetting the favored Soviet Union in the first game of the medal round, and then Finland in the final game of the tournament. Their victory was dubbed a “miracle on ice.” Yet, the true miracle, as Coach Brooks himself put it, was more than the mere victory.

“Two days later the miracle was made complete. My boys defeated Finland to win the gold medal, coming from behind once again. As I watched them out there, celebrating on the ice, I realized that… it was a lot more than a hockey game, not only for those who watched it, but for those who played in it. I've often been asked what was the best moment for me. Well, it was here - the sight of twenty young men of such differing backgrounds now standing as one. Young men willing to sacrifice so much of themselves all for an unknown.”

Those words say it all, and only echo the message the team learned late, but thankfully not too late: “The name on the front is a lot more important than the one on the back.”

When we think of unity, we tend to imagine one person walking over to another and saying, “Hi, how are you? Can I do anything to help?” Both of those initiatives are wonderful, but unity goes far beyond that. Unity is when we wake up every single morning and put on our jersey, yet remember that the name on the front is more important than the name on the back. Every Jew, no matter who he or she is or what their background is, plays as part of a team. And every member of that team has a jersey which has the same name embedded on the front: G-d. We may have different names on the back, but what unites us is the name on the front. The only question is: which is more important to us?

If it’s our own last name, then we may have a hard time getting anywhere together. Our differences may drive us further and further apart, and even leave us as rivals. Unity and teamwork is not simply about being nice. The only way we win a game, in fact, is if we are different. It is not about respecting and accepting our diversity; we only survive because of our diversity. Each one of us brings uniqueness to the Jewish people which could not be done without. We are all needed members of the team which represents G-d, and there is a very good reason each of us is here as part of that team.

We are not just another nation that has left its mark in the annals of history. Just revisit our point of origin. Enslaved in Egypt, the epicenter of ancient civilization, the whole world was watching us. Every deck was stacked against us, yet then the whistle blew and things started moving. We left slavery and became G-d’s people. Every one of us signed up for the team and stood unified together as one, indivisible people.

We represented the existence of G-d in the world, and we continue to do so to this very day. With every step we take, whoever we are and wherever we are, our jersey bespeaks of a Creator of the world. We all share this communal mission, and every one of us is indispensably needed for that mission to succeed.

Yet what happens when we start twisting our head backwards and give a fixated stare at the back of our jerseys? What is the manifestation of that called? Sinas chinam, baseless hatred. G-d tells us again and again, “Just stick together. Your only success is the name on the front. You are My people and I need you because you are proof of My existence in the world.” If we look down at another Jew, we are showing that we do not believe in our mission, and we are not playing the game; and if we are not playing the game, then G-d cannot coach us. 

The decision to destroy the second Beis Hamikdash came when the Jewish people said that they did not want to play. “As soon as you get it back together,” Hashem told us, “I will come right back. Just let me know when you’re ready.” Two thousand years later, our answer is the same, “Almost.”

This is what the day of Tisha B’av offers us. We sit on the floor and think and think, over and over, again and again about our role on the team and as a team. And then, after many hours of deep introspection, we make the bold decision and commitment to walk right back up to the coach and grab our jersey. Yet this time, we know which is more important. We know who we are and what we represent, and we are ready to play. We are ready for Mashiach.

At that point, we have finally learned the lesson: “When you pull on that jersey, you represent yourself and your teammates. And the name on the front is a lot more important than the one on the back.”

Rabbi Zecharia Wallerstein 
Planting, Not Burying

I once received a letter from a girl undergoing treatment in a rehab center in Florida. She had undergone the most unspeakable of life experiences and been in untold pain for years. Yet, she composed the most loving poem to Hashem, full of hope and optimism, from the deepest and darkest of places. Amidst her many heartfelt words, she wrote a message most apropos to Tisha B’av:

“Dear Rabbi Wallerstein,

… Sometimes when you’re in a dark place, you think you’ve been buried, but you’ve actually been planted. This is what Tisha B’av is about. You can be in the deepest and darkest place in life and believe you are having more dirt and more dirt being thrown on your head, and you wonder to Hashem, ‘What are You doing? You are burying me so deep!’ The truth, though, is that He is planting you. You are a seed that is awaiting to grow.”

This is what the day of Tisha B’av offers us. It is a day of grief, but also a day of growth. Even amidst the immense sadness and sorrow, there shines a beacon of faith and hope. We are not being buried…we are being planted.

A Short Message From 
Rabbi Bentzion Shafier

Would you find it hard to believe that someone makes a million dollars in one hour? Well, it’s true. Sheldon Anderson, chairman and CEO of Las Vegas Sands, the largest casino company in America, has a current net worth of $34.9 billion, and earns approximately $1.38 million per hour, or $22,946 per minute. Born to Jewish parents and raised in a lower-class home in Boston, he began his business career at the age of 12 when he borrowed $200 from his uncle, and from there, the rest is history. Yet, you may recall a Pasuk from Tehillim (19:10), “They [the words of Torah] are more precious than gold, than even much fine gold…” Just imagine, you wake up in the morning and learn an hour of Torah, and you are more than a million dollars richer. Yet, these million dollars have one major advantage that actual money doesn’t have: it lasts for eternity. You need not worry that the stock market will crash; to the contrary, your spiritual bank account will only increase hour by hour, day by day and year by year. What an opportunity.

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