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Life is a Game

Every player in the NFL dreams of one day winning the Super Bowl. The AFC Championship game featured the Cincinnati Bengals and the Kansas City Chiefs. In the final seconds of a tie game, Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes scrambled around the right end to pick up the first down and crossed the sideline out of bounds at Cincinnati’s 42-yard line when defensive end Joseph Ossai shoved him from behind, sending Mahomes flying toward Cincinnati’s bench. Officials penalized Ossai for unnecessary roughness. It was a bad mistake by 22-year-old Ossai, who had been playing well until the game-changing penalty. The 15-yard penalty put Chiefs kicker Harrison Butker in good position to convert a 45-yard, game-winning field goal. Butker successfully kicked the field goal, and Cincinnati lost 23-20, ending its season one win shy of a return trip to the Super Bowl. So close and yet so far. 

Germaine Pratt, another Bengals linebacker, expressed his frustration regarding Ossai’s mistake after the game. Pratt’s tirade was caught on camera and quickly went viral. Subsequently, Pratt expressed regret for his actions and harsh words for fellow defender Joseph Ossai. “I was emotional. I was in the moment. I would say I was wrong. As a man, you can look at yourself in the mirror and say, ‘I was wrong. I wasn’t a great teammate in that moment.” As usual, fans turned social media into a toxic wasteland of hatred and vitriol. Jesse Washington, a journalist and senior writer at The Undefeated, responded to the Ossai bashing by saying,” My heart is heavy for Joseph Ossai. He’s 22 years old and put his whole being into winning this game but arrived at the biggest moment of his life one second too slow. If you raged, gloated or said “how could he” think if this was your son, brother or friend.” Washington is correct. The beauty of sports is found in the possibility of imperfection. The pursuit of greatness necessarily includes the chance of failure. 

Dovid HaMelech sang in Tehillim, “לוּלֵי תוֹרָתְךָ שַׁעֲשֻׁעָי אָז אָבַדְתִּי בְעׇנְיִי, Were not Your teaching my delight, I would have perished in my affliction”. שַׁעֲשֻׁעָי does not only mean delight; it can also be translated as a game. Perhaps Dovid HaMelech meant that there are two ways of viewing our failures. If we are meant to be perfect, then mistakes are fatal. If we are playing a game, then mistakes are expected. In a game, mistakes are an opportunity to learn how to improve. Hashem created the world as a game. Mistakes are a part of the process, and we do not crumble because of our failures. Hashem asks us to strive for perfection but not to be perfect. Chazal teach us that Teshuva was created before the creation of the world. It seems then that Hashem understood that we were destined to fail. Teshuva is built into the system. 

There is a stunning mashal in Chasidic thought that expresses this concept beautifully. 

A king once possessed a valuable diamond, considered the centerpiece of his royal crown. He was captivated by its sparkling brilliance and perfection. One day, to his disappointment, he noticed a thin crack running down the face of the diamond.

The king summoned the finest jewelers, hoping that one of them would be able to restore the diamond to its former glory, but none could find a solution as the crack was too deep. A humble jeweler from a nearby village came forward, offering to repair the diamond. The king was initially skeptical but allowed the jeweler to spend a single night with the diamond, with the understanding that he would be rewarded if he succeeded and punished if he failed.

Locked in the room with the diamond, the jeweler considered the situation. The crack was too deep to be repaired without damaging the diamond, but he had an idea. The next morning, he emerged with the diamond in hand, and to everyone’s surprise, the crack was still there, but now the diamond was adorned with a beautiful rose etched into its surface, turning the crack into its stem.

The king was overjoyed, recognizing the simple jeweler’s creativity and turning the diamond into a unique and even more valuable treasure. He embraced the jeweler and said, “Now, I truly have my crown jewel! The diamond was already magnificent, but now it is truly one of a kind.”

The Japanese art of Kintsugi exemplifies the beauty of imperfection. In this practice, broken pottery is not thrown away but is instead repaired with gold. The cracks and fractures are not hidden; instead, they are highlighted and emphasized, making the piece even more beautiful. 

The comments on social media about Joseph Ossai’s error are reflective of a society that cannot tolerate failure. This is simply not a Jewish value. We are a growth-oriented community, and we expect a lot of ourselves and our children. But to do so in a healthy way means seeing the world through the prism of a game. We are human, destined to make mistakes and forever capable of getting back up again. Children especially are sensitive to falling short. We must educate them as we would athletes playing a game. It’s just one play. Shake it off. The next play can be better. And, as long as we are alive, the game is not over. 

Rav Mordechai Burg

Internationally renowned speaker, educator, and author Rav Mordechai Burg is the Menahel of Mevaseret, Mashpia of NCSY Summer, Mashpia of Nitzotzos, author of Nitzotzos on Chumash and a senior Rebbe at Tomer Devorah and Bnot Torah Institute. His shiurim can be found on Nitzotzos.com

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