Friday, May 13, 2016

TBE Bar/Bat Mitzvah Commentary: Russell Moskowitz on Kedoshim

Shabbat Shalom

As I’ve been studying to become bar mitzvah, I’ve learned that the Torah has something to say regarding just about any topic.  So when the rabbi asked me what my interests are, the first thing that came to mind was, of course, “Basketball,” a game that I’ve loved since I was literally smaller than the ball. Once I could walk, it was not long before I learned how to shoot. So I wondered whether the Torah could have anything to say about my favorite sport.

After all, basketball wasn’t even around when the Torah was written.  Actually, a form of the sport was played in the ancient world – in Mexico about two thousand years ago.  But the Torah was written at least five hundred years before that.

Still, the Torah has many things to teach about basketball, and lots of those things are found in my portion of Kedoshim, which is filled with important laws.

For instance, there’s the law that states, “DON’T STAND IDLY BY YOUR NEIGHBOR.”  In real life it means to stand up for people who are in trouble.  But in basketball terms, it means to help out on defense.  I can recall a number of times when we’ve teamed up to stop a bigger player and we were able to shut him down.  Or, if my teammate was trapped in the corner, it was my job to find an open space and call for the ball so he could pass it to me.  Basically, the message of this commandment is to be a team player, and that we are ALL in this together.

Another law states, “DON’T PLACE A STUMBLING BLOCK BEFORE THE BLIND.”  Of course, if we take it literally, it means that we shouldn’t make fun of people with disabilities.  Commentators also state that we shouldn’t mislead people, or, as we often say, “blindside” them.  That happens in basketball all the time, like when people set an illegal screen.  Sometimes faking is good, like when a shooter does a pump fake in order to get open.  But in real life, we should aim to be honest – in other words, to be straight shooters.

In another verse, the Torah instructs us to REPROVE OUR NEIGHBOR.  That means that we need to correct things that other people are doing wrong.  However, when we point out someone’s mistakes, we should NOT embarrass them.  At one time, long ago, I had a habit of dribbling into the corners.  When I did that, my coaches would quietly correct me when I came over to the bench.  They never yelled at me in public.  THEY must have read the Torah!!

My portion includes the commandment not to STEAL.  It’s actually there twice.  – Well in basketball, unlike life, it’s good to steal!  Sometimes, a great defensive play can decide a game just as much as a clutch shot or a great assist. 

But even in basketball, not all forms of stealing are proper.  Stealing a call, for instance, by flopping – is not a good thing (even though I’ve probably done it a couple of times).

The most important commandment in my portion also happens to be the most important one in the entire Torah: LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.  In basketball terms, that means to put the team before myself. I enjoy making a great pass just as much as a great shot.  But since the verse also says to love myself, I also need to have the confidence to take the shot when I am open.

My mitzvah project ties into this theme.  PeacePlayers International uses basketball to unite, educate and inspire young people to create a more peaceful world. Based on the idea that children who play together can learn to live together, this organization brings together children from different religious, ethnic and cultural backgrounds to develop friendship and mutual respect.

       So as you can see, the Torah has a lot to say about basketball. So now that I’m a bar mitzvah, I hope I’ll be able to use these important lessons both on the court -  and off.

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