Sermon by Ethan Stolar
May 7, 2016 at Beth Jacob Synagogue
on YOUTH SHABBAT – Parashat Acharei Mot

Soccer Team in Need of Help

Seven years ago, the head of the house league soccer program I participated in suggested I join a soccer academy, where professional soccer coaches could help develop my soccer skills to a higher level. Cathy believed I had the talent to play more competitive soccer and that by joining a soccer academy, my dream of becoming a professional soccer player one day could become more of a reality. So I did.

SoccerLater that winter, Cathy called my dad to say that one of the teams in their indoor season was not doing so well. This team had not won a single game and had barely managed to score a goal all season. Cathy asked if I could play once a week for this team and help these poor souls. They needed a little bit of help.

A little bit of help, I thought… no, they don’t need me, they need Lionel Messi (the best soccer player in the world). My first reaction was:

Are you kidding me? Am I alone going to help this team? No way, not gonna happen!

Well, apparently IT WAS gonna happen as my dad gladly volunteered my services to Cathy’s team in need.

You see, my dad and Cathy thought that I could provide the team with some much needed leadership, not to mention scoring, and help the rest of the team feel better about themselves. “You can make the players around you better,” said my dad, “you can help them get their confidence back.”

“No way, not gonna happen, I thought”… but it did, it did happen.

I began playing for this team and quickly realized that I could help my teammates by playing with them, rather than just scoring goals.  I actually enjoyed setting up others so they could score goals themselves; they ran and laughed like crazy after every game we won, but the team did get better, so much better actually, that we won the league that winter.

So, after three winters of playing for the team that needed the most “LITTLE BIT OF HELP”, and winning the championship at the end of the year, I learned that being a leader was also being part of a team, not being above the team, and that I could always get better by listening to the coaches’ comments. Playing for these teams made both the teams and me better.

Leadership in the Parasha

I thought about this when relating to this week’s parasha that tells us that as a leader, you have to understand that you are not above others and that you have to make sure that even though you may be a leader, you always have to improve yourself and hold yourself to a higher standard.

In the parasha, Moses shows incredible leadership, at times bold and decisive, at others slow and persistent. Moses had to induce the Israelites to do teshuvah and God to exercise forgiveness. At that moment he was the greatest ever embodiment of the name Israel, meaning one who wrestles with God and with people and prevails.

Leadership in the Haftarah

And speaking of prevailing, this week’s Haftarah makes me think of one of my favorite shows: Survivor.  I’m sure many of you have seen this TV show at one time or another: a show where contestants compete under very difficult circumstances for a chance to win $1 million dollars.

SurvivorHow could this show Survivor, where people compete in challenges in very exotic destinations around the world, have some relevance to this week’s Haftarah, Machar Hachodesh, the great story of friendship between David and Jonathan?

You see, David and Jonathan had a very strong friendship despite difficult circumstances, they kept secrets between them… so when Jonathan finds out that his father, King Saul wants to kill David, he lets David know so he can run away and save himself.

In the show Survivor, contestants form strong alliances to help each other, and some become very close friends, and they do so under difficult circumstances where they have very little food, very little sleep, and where they keep secrets from others to help each other advance further in the game.

Leadership Skills We All Can Have

Ethan Stolar

Ethan Stolar

Being a leader and keeping secrets both play a major role in this week’s Torah reading. Jonathan shows true leadership by telling David to run away as his father King Saul wants to kill him. Not only does he show great leadership skills, he shows us that keeping secrets can actually be a good thing. Instead of telling his father that David ran away, he kept it a secret and it turned out to be a good thing to do as that act saved David’s life.

In the end, we don’t need to play for the weakest soccer team in the league or be a contestant in Survivor to show that we can all be leaders in our everyday lives.

Thank you and Shabbat Shalom!