February 22, 2019

What Does the Super Bowl Have to Do With Judaism?

The Super Bowl is the ultimate annual event. After all these years, it’s still the most watched show on television. This grand American tradition, which many of us will be watching on Sunday, reminds us of the power of the annual cycle. Anything that comes around once a year—a birthday, a gala, a national holiday, the Oscars, etc.—is special if for no other reason than we have to wait a whole year for it.

Even in Judaism, the most popular holidays, from Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur to Passover and Hanukkah, come only once a year.

But here’s where things get weird: According to Jewish tradition, the holiest day of the Jewish calendar comes not once a year but once a week. It’s called Shabbat.

This might be one of the more provocative ideas in Judaism: We have to wait only six days for our spiritual Super Bowl.

How can a weekly event carry so much power?

One reason is Godliness. As it is written in Genesis: “On the seventh day, God finished that work that He had been doing…. And God blessed the seventh day and declared it holy, because on it God ceased from all the work of creation that He had done.”

God rested, so we rest.

That is the Super Bowl idea of Shabbat: We get to imitate our Creator. God may have a role to play in all Jewish holidays, but Shabbat is the only holiday that He himself observed. It’s not a coincidence that Shabbat is also the only Jewish holiday listed in the 10 commandments.

But that’s theology. There’s also the common sense idea that the weekly rhythm of Shabbat is supremely relevant to our modern lives.

After six days of being hooked to the virtual world of our smart phones, we get a chance to reconnect with our humanity. For one day a week, we take a break from our frantic lives and rediscover the holy and the timeless. That’s a fancy way of saying that we do real things like sit around a dinner table unencumbered by Twitter and Facebook, read books, bond with nature, converse with those we love, express gratitude for our blessings and recharge our batteries for the coming week.

“In our home,” writes Susannah Heschel in the introduction to her father Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel’s book, The Sabbath, “certain topics were avoided on the Sabbath—politics, the Holocaust, the war in Vietnam—while others were emphasized. Observing the Sabbath is not only about refraining from work, but about creating menuha, a restfulness that is also a celebration.”

Imagine that—a day when we can all stop talking about Donald Trump and find reasons for serenity and joy.

Who wants to wait a whole year for that?

Enjoy the game.