As a diehard Boise State football fan, I was very unhappy with Saturday night’s opening game debacle. But as a rabbi and a Jew, I must admit that our ugly loss and the reams of deeply disappointed post-game analysis filling the blogosphere have helped me to prepare spiritually for the approaching High Holy Days (which begin with Rosh Hashanah on Wednesday night) far better than a typical win might have.
We BSU boosters are unaccustomed to losing, having done so—barely—in only four tightly-contested games over the last four years. In other words, we are spoiled. So in the wake of Saturday night’s beat down, many fans are talking as if this were the end of the football world as we know it.
They are wrong. In big time college football, no one wins all the time. Programs wax and wane as players graduate and new ones take their places. Even the perennial powerhouses—Texas, Nebraska, Alabama—go through dry spells and get blown out on occasion. What makes the great programs great is that, over time, they bounce back from bad games and losing seasons to win again.
Football, of course, is just a game. But all the more so is failure part of real life, where the stakes are so much higher. During the High Holy Days, we remember just how often we lose our way. Despite our best intentions, we miss the mark, make foolish mistakes, throw away opportunities—again and again and again. Al chayt.
One of my teachers, Rabbi Chanan Brichto, z”l, always reminded his students that the Hebrew Bible is overwhelmingly a story of failure, struggle, and loss. The world’s first child murders his brother. God has to re-create the world a second time after Noah. The patriarchal families are torn apart by jealousy and deceit. Even our greatest prophet, Moses, does not make it to the Promised Land.
But the central message of this sacred season is that despite all of this—lamrot ha-kol—we can and must grow. Our challenge is to acknowledge our many failures and learn from them, so we can improve in the coming year. There will always be losses, but in our tradition, resolve and hope carry the day. Or as Coach Pete said in his post-game interview Saturday night, “I know we’ve got to do a lot better, and we will.”
Meanwhile, Bronco fans take note: since our Jewish new year, 5774, starts Wednesday night with Rosh Hashanah, in just three days, we’ll be able to say that we’re undefeated on the year!