Worshiping Football and God

For many worshippers here in the Twin Cities a renewed air of excitement has reinvigorated the Land of 10,000 Lakes. This excitement, in my estimation, does not stem from the anticipation of the expected clergy’s speeches during this High Holiday season about the important issues facing the United States government today. In fact, it has nothing to do with the Jewish holidays at all.

This palpable passion comes from the beginning of the new Vikings season. What better way to start the season than a trouncing of our first opponents! In revelry with friends and family, fans will be singing the famous Skol Vikings cheer. Rapt parents will teach their young children about the rules of football, and who the good guys are and how we root for the Vikings. The indoctrination begins early in sports.

And now we come to a question I have been asked now and again: Rabbi, why don’t you wait until your children are older to let them choose how they want to practice Judaism? Aren’t you slanting their biases and shaping their young minds to believe what you believe in? My answer: Yes, I am. As do you, my dear reader. Allow me to explain based on a few verses in the week’s Torah portion.

Then Moshe commanded them saying…at the end of every seven years…in the Festival of Sukkot…all of Israel comes to appear before the L-rd [in the Holy Temple]…you shall read this Torah before all of Israel…the men, the women and the children…

In these verses we have the description of the Hak’hel service observed every seven years by the entire Jewish people. It was a major scene at the Temple Mount where the entire nation would come together to hear the King read certain sections of the Torah. It was an awe inspiring and awesome event (for something akin to this great assembly, visit the Western Wall on the first (shared) intermediate day of Sukkot or Passover in the morning hours where throngs of people fill the entire Kotel Plaza waiting for the holy Priestly blessing given to the entire nation. I have had the great privilege to be part of this when living in Israel and it was a truly memorable and powerful event).

The question our commentaries grapple with is: why are the very young children brought? Remember, we are requiring people to bring their little kids (not by car but by donkey or by foot) to the Holy Temple for what? They certainly are too young to understand what’s being read. It seems wasteful to have to take them. Just imagine the diaper bag full of things required for such a schlep!

I believe part of the answer comes back to our Vikings fans. Namely, when we think something is very important, we try our best to impart that to our children. We don’t care how old they are. We put them in Vikings paraphernalia from the day they are born. Kids will be in Vikings pajamas and even in Vikings onesies!  If we value Torah and mitzvot the same way as the typical Minnesotan values, the Vikings we will want them to imbibe its messages from the very earliest of ages. Like the Skol Vikings cheer, we will sing songs about Torah and its messages and share the ritual and culture around Judaism.

So when we think about the High Holidays lets learn a lesson from our fellow Minnesotans. The more we value the important things, the more we will live them, talk about them and teach them to our family, beginning with our children.