Parashat Nitzavim and Basketball: Preparing for Yamim Nora’im by Solomon Shulman


We all have a first love, something that comes before everything else to which we relate many of life’s daily events. For some people it might be a great book, for others it might be a great movie. For some it is basketball. We can use Parashat Nitzavim and the lessons we learn on the basketball court to help prepare us for Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur.

The Parashah begins (Devarim 29:9), “Atem Nitzavim HaYom Kulechem Lifnei Hashem Elokeichem,” “You are standing here today, all of you, before Hashem your God.” The very first lesson is that we are all present and we all count in God’s eyes.

On the basketball court, the center is no more or less important to the team than the point guard or the shooting guard. We are all part of the team and everyone has a potential role. Likewise, Judaism is a religion founded on the fact that each and every one of us was standing at Har Sinai and learning the laws that Hashem gave us. Not only were the Rabbis and the scholars there, but all of Bnei Yisrael was there at Har Sinai and we are all part of the team until today. Therefore, we all must be prepared for presentation before God in our lives as Jews.

The Torah further states (30:12-14), “Lo VaShamayim Hi…Ki Karov Eilecha HaDavar,” “It is not in the heavens… but the matter is close to you.” The expectation for performance of Teshuvah is not for superhuman effort. Rather, it is close to us – we are all expected to perform Teshuvah. This is similar to the basketball court, on which we all make mistakes. We all sometimes stand in the key for three seconds and we all sometimes throw the ball out of bounds. We are not expected to be Kevin Durant or Michael Jordan; however, we are expected to learn from our mistakes and make improvements.

This is what Teshuvah is all about. Equally important, though, is our knowing that we can correct mistakes and that there is forgiveness when we do make mistakes on or off the basketball court. This is the time of year when we ask each other for forgiveness for our errors, Bein Adam LeChaveiro, and we ask God for forgiveness as well, Bein Adam LeMakom – we seek forgiveness for our mistakes whether we err to a fellow human or to God. On and off the court when we are forgiving in our hearts for our friends’ mistakes, we know in our hearts that they will be more forgiving of our own mistakes in return.

The last Pasuk in the Parashah states (30:20), “LeAhavah Et Hashem Elokecha LiShmo’a BeKolo ULDavka Vo Ki Hu Chayecha,” “To love Hashem, your God, to listen to his voice, to cling to him because he is your life.” What a powerful sentence! Some might sleep with a basketball on the bed. If basketball is a person’s life and he/she really loves it, then that person clings to it – it is by his/her side day and night. Similarly, while at this time of year one could feel a burden with all the extra time for Davening, Selichot, going to Shul, and less time for meals (and basketball), it is imperative to cling to Hashem like we would cling to our favorite worldly interests.

In basketball, we often have intense workouts that are difficult and make us work hard. During these workouts, we know that they are for the greater good of becoming a better player. Therefore, we look forward to these workouts and we “cling” to the opportunities for the exercises. In a similar way, would it not be so great to hear people shouting out, “Yay, it is the Aseret Yemei Teshuva, the Ten Days of Repentance!” or, “Isn’t it great that we get a chance to spend all morning in Shul involved in prayer and Shofar blows?” Sure, on the surface we have “extra work” like a basketball practice is extra work, but for one who loves them, the Yamim Nora’im are desirable. May we all merit to approach the Yamim Nora’im with positive attitudes and thus be assisted in Teshuvah and inscribed into the Book of Life. Shanah Tovah!

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