While I'm not a big football fan, come January, and I can get shlepped into the excitement. I'm fascinated by the talent, the small details that can determine the entire season, and the Superbowl hype.
But I also try looking out for spiritual lessons in sports. This year, the "light bulb" went off as I read an article about Tom Brady, the quarterback of the Patriots. Love him or hate him, it's agreed that he is one of the best quarterbacks to ever play the game. Perhaps most remarkable is his ability to keep playing on an extraordinary level well past the age most quarterbacks begin to decline.
While there is certainly some "Mazel" in athletes staying healthy, the article highlighted what he does to stay at the top of the game. As I read about his intense schedule, diet, and mindset, I could not help but imagine living life as focused on our goals, applying these same principles to something far more important - our spiritual life.
Here are a few clips from the article - with a spiritual parallel:
Adapting to Change
"Several years ago, Brady wanted to guard against the diminishing arm strength that dooms most quarterbacks as they age, so he devised a plan with his trainer to rebuild his motion and emphasize using more of his torso to drive the ball down the field. It revitalized his ability to throw deep."
Is our Jewish journey stagnant? Do we adapt to new challenges or opportunities? When we notice our prayers become too robotic, do we strategize how to make davening more meaningful? If a pocket of time opens up, do we fill it with a new Mitzvah or study? When we find our relationships weakening, do we take note and figure out what character traits need fine-tuning? Do we have a "spiritual trainer" we feel comfortable talking to?
We are what we eat
"Brady keeps to an incredibly strict diet that includes a lot of vegetables and lean meats. If it's not organic, I don't use it. And whole grains: brown rice, quinoa, millet, beans.... No white sugar. No white flour. I use Himalayan pink salt as the sodium. I never use iodized salt. No coffee. No caffeine. No fungus. No dairy."
Observing Kosher. Reciting blessings before and after we eat. Family Shabbat meals. Prohibitions against eating chametz on Passover. Eating healthfully. Eating for the right reasons.
So many Mitzvos in Torah relate to mindful eating. It's a way to bring sanctity to what is typically such a mundane area of our life. And with all of these mitzvot, the details really matter. Not only to the health of our body, but also for our soul.
Know your Opponent
"Tom Brady helped the New England Patriots beat the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday to advance to his seventh Super Bowl, but he spent no time reveling in the glory. In fact, just hours after winning the AFC, Brady was right back to work, up until 1:30 a.m. studying the Falcons' roster in preparation for the Super Bowl. On other occasions, security guards would be called in the middle of the night as Brady was trying to get into the building to watch film."
Torah tells us we have two forces inside of us: Our G-dly soul, and its opponent, our animal soul. Life is the tale of 2 Souls. There are times we operate from best selves and the moments we fall prey to our flaws and weak spots.
How well do we really know this opponent? Do we understand ourselves well? Know how to respond when we feel anger or jealous? Recognize the tools that lift us out from sadness? Have the clarity to know which situation to avoid?
The Chabad Classic, the Tanya, is all about understanding the struggle within and using that knowledge to win the game of life.
Never Stop Growing!
We don’t train with the idea he is already the starting quarterback,” Guerrero said. “Every year, he’s working to be the starting quarterback, and he’s got to work hard to do that. He always talks about it. Every year there is going to be somebody there that is going to outwork me if I don’t continue to work hard. So in his mind, he has to keep working hard in order to continue to perform at the level he has or to improve.”
A famous Chassidic quote:
In material matters, a person who is content with his lot is an individual of the highest quality. In spiritual matters, however, to be satisfied with one’s lot is the worst deficiency, and makes one regress and fall, G‑d forbid.
Just like someone trying to swim against the tide, if one is not moving forward they are probably going backwards. The determination to never feel "you have arrived" but rather always keep growing in Mitzvot is central to the life of a Jew.