Have Courage (Kol Nidre 5778)

My favorite part of the Torah is the end.

It’s a tender and sweet moment. Moses dies, God buries Moses in a place that is unknown to anyone else. The Torah says some nice words about Moses, how he was unlike any other prophet that the Israelites has known—our liberator, our lawgiver, our defender, our guide.

And that is it, the Torah ends.

So we can say this is a nice ending, a literary ending…if the story of the Torah is the story of Moses. And despite the fact that the Torah is called the Five Books of Moses, it is not the story of Moses, but the story of the Israelites. The story of our people that begins as the narrative of a family saga to the narrative of a nation, oppressed in slavery, finding liberation and redemption, and journeying, both physically and spiritually to a new land, a new reality, a new future.

And since the story of the Torah is the story of the Israelites, it is, then, when it ends, incomplete. For the Israelites never achieve their goal, never reach the land, the text finishes with Moses dying and the Israelites still on the eastern bank of the Jordan river, poised to cross but not making it. Roll end credits.

The Israelites do make it over the river and into the land: In the book of Joshua, the book that follows Deuteronomy. But it is not part of the Torah itself, the central sacred text of our people.

The next book of the bible following the end of the Torah is called Joshua after its main protagonist, Joshua ben Nun, who takes over the leadership from Moses. This is preordained, Joshua is first appointed to be Moses’s successor as leader earlier on in the Torah, after God tells Moses that he is to die in the wilderness and not enter the land. Moses, concerned for the people, asks God for a successor. God then tells Moses to take Joshua in front of all the people and anoint him as the successor.

Then, just as the Torah is coming to a close, and Moses knows he is about to die, he offers a blessing to Joshua in front of all the people, “Be strong and have courage, for it is you who shall go with this people into the land that God swore to their ancestors to give them, and it is you who shall appoint it to them. And God will go before you. God will be with you and will not fail you or forsake you. Fear not, and do not be dismayed.” (Deuteronomy 31:7-8) These are the words that Moses uses to charge Joshua for what he is to do next. Facing an uncertain future, Moses tells Joshua to have strength, but more importantly, to have courage.

I think about these words as we face an uncertain future. Indeed, the nature of the future is that it is uncertain. We do not know what comes. We make plans, and they are broken for us. And at the same time we like to project from our current circumstances into the future as a kind of foretelling of what will be. We ask ourselves, based on where we are now, are we moving in the right direction?

And these days, it feels like we are particularly challenged in that regard. Do we feel we are moving in the right direction?

I remember walking around the halls of Pomona Junior High School, growing up in the 1980s under the specter of nuclear war, all our destruction held at bay by the diplomatic notion of detante and treaties and a cold war with the Soviet Union. And now, the threat of nuclear war once again hovers over us, albeit with a different enemy.

Environmental destruction seems imminent, and weather patterns change and storms become stronger, all due to the scientific certainty around climate change. Yet there are those in power who deny these facts and view environmental regulation and protection as an infringement of individual rights as if they do not breathe the same air we do, or drink the same water we do, as if we as individuals can exist separate from the environment.

Our leadership posits moral equivalency between those who would seek to destroy Jews and African Americans and others with those who oppose them. When white supremacist leaders feel comfortable enough to come out from under their sheets to march through cities chanting slogans of hate and violence, given sanction by the leaders of our government, we are less secure.

When immigrants are seen as the enemy, when immigrant children are punished for the “transgressions” of their parents, when your religion and nationality automatically makes you an enemy worthy of exclusion, when your gender identity means you can not serve in the most selfless capacity that our nation can offer—the military, when your desire to exercise your free speech by taking a knee rather than putting your hand on your heart makes you an enemy and not a patriot, we have come to a point of devaluing human life to a dangerous degree.

And looking at my own personal situation over these past two years, I have had to change my health insurance plan two years in a row, first when Providence, our primary hospital, and its partner Swedish, where I get my neurological care, dropped my individual Premera plan, and now when my current carrier Regence decides to cancel my plan—indeed all individual plans in Thurston County—because, as the letter I received stated, “of instability in the market.”—I am reminded very directly and personally that access to affordable health care through insurance coverage remains not a right but a commodity.

Looking at all of these, and more, I will admit that I find it hard to stand up here and know exactly what to say. I share all these, because when I add them up, I am not feeling particularly hopeful about the way things are. I can’t in good conscience tell you to have hope, that things will turn out OK, that this too shall pass, because it seems so overwhelming, and it doesn’t feel like it will pass.

So rather than talk about hope, I share this story of Joshua and the death of Moses because I really want to talk about courage. In facing an unknown future, Moses did not tell Joshua to have hope. He told him to have courage.

Over this past summer I had the privilege to learn from Parker Palmer, the Quaker thinker and writer and one of the compelling spiritual teachers of our day, when I attended a retreat sponsored by his nonprofit, the Center for Courage and Renewal. During his lectures (and also found in his most recent book Healing the Heart of Democracy), he spoke of the “tragic gap,” which he calls “the most fundamental and most challenging” of the tensions that we hold as people. The tragic gap is the space between the harsh realities that surround us all the time, that we see, that we feel, and the things that we know to be possible, a world that is possible because we can see it, we can vision it. This is the tragic gap.

And tragic is not used here in the colloquial sense of being “sad” or “bad,” but rather in that classic sense that this is, as Palmer writes, “an eternal and inescapable feature of the human condition.” This is where we are at all time, between the what is and what could be. This is the space between the present and the future. This is the Israelites, waiting on the eastern bank of the Jordan river as the Torah ends, never making it to the other side. They can see and envision the future, but they have not achieved it yet.

The fact that the Torah ends in this place—and liturgically as well for with our yearly Torah reading cycle as we end the reading of Deuteronomy we then turn around and pick up the reading at the beginning of Genesis—teaches us that powerful lesson, that we are always in the tragic gap. We are always in the place of holding tension between the world in which we live and the world that can be. We are always in the tension between who we are at any given moment and who we could be moving forward.

And again, the blessing given to Joshua at the cusp of the ending of the text, as both he and the Israelites recognize the tragic gap that lay before them, as they know they will need to move forward not sure what awaits them, is to have courage. To have courage.

It is courage that will allow the Israelites to cross the river and realize their futures. It is courage that will allow Joshua to act in the face of the unknown. It is courage that will bring the Israelites that much closer to a better future.

For what courage ultimately means is that in the face of fear, or an uncertain future, or even a state of hopelessness, we act anyway. We move forward anyway. We take a chance, even when you do not know what the outcome will be. We act on our values, we express our authentic selves, we see a wrong and wish to right it. We act.

We are all facing an unknown and challenging future. We can say things will get better, but we don’t really know. Sometimes we are up against such massive forces like the ones I mentioned before: governments, militaries, the environment, markets, that it does not feel that we can move them, or make an impact, or do anything about them. That we are at the whim of others. At the same time we have our personal challenges, of health, finances, or relationships that we don’t know how they will be resolved.

But if you sense that something is wrong, if you feel that your values are being tested, if you can articulate that tension that you are living in, you can see a challenge even though you are uncertain how it will turn out, you can act anyway. That is courage.

A recent blog post by Miguel Clark Mallet on the On Being blog resonated with me. He wrote, in a post titled, “We’ve Hoped Ourselves Into this Current Crisis”:

You see, whether I get what I want turns out to not actually be my business. This insight came as quite a surprise, living as we do in a culture of control (not to say domination), a culture that deifies power over people, nature, possessions, aging, time, even death. But I don’t control whether I get what I want because I don’t control the universe; I live within it.

So I don’t need hope (or control) to act. I don’t need hope to figure out what I should do and how I should live. I have values. I have beliefs. I can examine whether they’re grounded in reality. And I can use those values to ask myself with each choice, “Am I being — right now — the person I believe I should be? Am I acting in line with truth, with reality, with the way I think life should be lived?”

If I believe in justice, do I express that belief? Do I work against injustice? Do I choose to undermine oppression or further it? Not because I know I’ll “win” or “succeed,” but because I’ve committed myself to living the way I think I should live.

At my best, I answer what each moment and my values call me to do. Sometimes it’s to rest, to reflect. Sometimes it’s to play. Sometimes it’s to connect with friends and loved ones. Sometimes it’s to struggle, critique, speak out. Sometimes to listen. Sometimes to celebrate. Sometimes to grieve. Each moment makes its demand, and I’m seeking the kind of life where I hear and answer that need as often as I can.

Contrary to our control-obsessed culture, the alternative to hope isn’t passivity or despair. It’s living. It’s being humble and real.

And, I would add, it’s courage. For living is courage. For we are all in our own tragic gap, a place of tension that has meaning for us, a place of a present of our own harsh reality and the place of a future fulfilled.

It is even an act courage to show up here today, on Yom Kippur, to ask the questions that you have of yourself. What is your gap? What is the tension you hold? Another lesson Parker Palmer teaches, as part of his larger teaching of the different habits of the heart that we can cultivate, is that we must develop “an ability to hold tension in life-giving ways.”

Think about the questions you bring with you today. What are the tensions that you are holding? What is it that you are bringing into this holy space at this holy time? What is the tension between who you are and who you could be? As I learned this past summer from my teachers at the retreat, courage can be simply entering in spaces that allow our authentic selves to show up, and making the room for others to show up as well.

And that is the work of Yom Kippur: repentance, forgiveness, laying yourself bare and moving forward. Forgiving others, and forgiving yourself. Showing up. Yom Kippur is a day of courage, it’s being honest with who we are and rejecting the false narratives we tell about ourselves and the narratives that others tell of us. It’s opening up to our next chapter, whatever that is.

To take the step forward. To live in the face of adversity. To choose life. All of that takes courage.

And courage is not easy. It means facing fears. It means facing life when it challenges us. It means stepping into that tragic gap of the in between. A midrash teaches of a person walking along the road who comes across a pack of dogs and was afraid of them. So what did he do? He sat down in their midst. Courage.

And courage does not require hope. In fact, it is the acting even without hope that can define true courage. We make this declaration today, on this most sacred day of the year, when we chant the Unetaneh Tokef, that prayer that asks who shall live and who shall die, who is inscribed and who is left out. It is a statement of reality, of acceptance, of the fact that despite our best hopes, life may have something else planned for us.

But then we say tefillah, teshuvah, tzedakah can avert the decree—that in the face of an unknown fate, of problems in the world, of seemingly everything against us—we still choose to live, by, among other things, creating a sense of the sacred, of forming and strengthening relationships, acting for social justice and the common good, being who we know we must be. This is what it means to live a life of courage.

And the irony of it all is that this then gives us hope.

Hope does not breed courage. Courage breeds hope.

The minister Victoria Stafford defines it well when she writes,

Our mission is to plant ourselves at the gates of Hope not the prudent gates of Optimism, which are somewhat narrower; nor the stalwart, boring gates of Common Sense; nor the strident gates of Self-Righteousness, which creak on shrill and angry hinges (people cannot hear us there; they cannot pass through); nor the cheerful, flimsy garden gate of “Everything is gonna be all right.” But a different, sometimes lonely place, the place of truth-telling, about your own soul first of all and its condition, the place of resistance and defiance, the piece of ground from which you see the world both as it is and as it could be, as it will be; the place from which you glimpse not only struggle, but joy in the struggle. And we stand there, beckoning and calling, telling people what we are seeing, asking people what they see.

The image of the gates echo on this day, when we speak of the gates of heaven being open to receive our petition. Here, then, the gates of hope are only available to us if we act with courage. The personal challenges we face, the litany of societal ills plaguing us right now, we can hope to overcome them, if we first act with courage in the face of them.

And we return to the words Moses tells Joshua before he is to die and Joshua is to take over, before he is to enter the unknown gap, “be strong and have courage.” For these words are echoed in Psalm 27, the psalm that is added to our liturgy over these High Holidays. In the last line we read, “Hope in God, be strong and of good courage, hope in God.” How do we have hope? By acting courageously.

The point here, in this psalm, and at the end of the Torah, is that we do not wait for God to show us what God can do, rather, we show God what we can do.

A few years ago, I gave a sermon about a garden, about the things that I have learned about life and repentance from having a garden. I ended that sermon talking about carrots, and how carrots are the vegetable of hope. They are the vegetable of hope because unlike cucumbers, or beans, or tomatoes, we do not see the growth of the vegetable. As a root vegetable it grows underground, and so the time to harvest could be determined by time, by the greenery that is found above ground, by our best guess. And because of this, I said carrots are the vegetable of hope because we do not know whether or not we have been successful until after pulling them.

So I wish to amend this slightly if I may. Yes, carrots are still the vegetable of hope. We hope that they are grown to maturity by the time they are to be harvested. But picking the carrots, even without knowing the result, is an act of courage. And perhaps even planting them in the first place is an act of courage.

Generating, cultivating, and acting with courage.

That is the first step towards transformation. That is the first step towards revolution. That is the first step towards hope. That is the first step to changing ourselves and changing our world. This is the step we take tonight. The courageous step into the tragic gap.

So on this day of days, as we all face our own gaps and our gap as a society, I offer you the same blessing that Moses gave to Joshua: May we all be strong and have courage.

Creating a Progressive, Inclusive, Egalitarian Jewish People: My Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association Presidential Address

On March 28, 2017, I was honored to be elected President of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association at our biennial convention in Portland, OR. These are the remarks I delivered that evening at our Presidential Dinner.

Thank you. I will admit that when I agreed to accept this position, I only did so because I thought I would be able to score an invitation to President Hillary Clinton’s White House Hanukkah party.

I’m honored to be here standing in front of you tonight, and so I would like to offer a few acknowledgements, and then some remarks.

First to Yohanna, thank you for that beautiful and moving introduction and for being such a partner and support to me in life, in love and in this endeavor we are on together. I fully recommend to all of you to have a rabbi as a partner.

My kids, Ozi and Erez, who are here. Those who were with us at RRC remember Ozi as a little baby, not as a high school sophomore, now embarrassed I’m sure. He was born while we were students at RRC. To him and Erez who joined us later, I owe my gratitude for letting me do what I do, for I know it is not easy, and their lives are not normal. They get dragged around places, left alone a lot, and it is hard to find time for all four of us to have time together.

Thank you to my parents, Alan and Karen Goldstein, who are here today, who have been very supportive of me throughout these years and travel across the country every year on Rosh Hashanah to attend my congregation, though part of me believes they are still hoping that I will announce from the bimah that I am leaving the rabbinate to go to law school.

There are my classmates and colleagues, and specifically those colleagues I’ve had the opportunity to work closely with over these past six years I have served this association, first as co-chair of the Ishut Task Force, then as a board member, from whom I have learned so much. But really to all of you, those in this room and those who were not able to join us, for I know that each one of you has something to teach me, and I look forward to serving you.

To Nina [Mandel], my predecessor, my friend and classmate, who brought us to a place of strength and healing as an association, dealing with such difficult issues with grace and wisdom. For that I am personally grateful and look forward to continuing your work.

I want to recognize Elyse [Wechterman] who has done tremendous things with this association, and I was fortunate to be in leadership when she was brought on. An Executive Director of vision, insight and tremendous energy, who has already moved this association in positive ways that will only benefit our membership and the Jewish people. I very much look forward to working with her.

And I would be remiss if I did not personally acknowledge Richard Hirsh, who is not here tonight, to whom I owe much of my rabbinate. Who served as a personal and intellectual mentor while I was a student, who published my work in the Reconstructionist, who is the one who invited me to serve as co-chair of the Ishut Task Force. When I was first asked to be on the Board, I accepted in large part for the opportunity to work with Richard. I admire his commitment to act on principle and count him as one who will always be my teacher.

This is hard, talking in front of colleagues, and as my remarks are coming now toward the end of this convention, during which we have wrestled with so many issues, perhaps some of these thoughts will be like Deuteronomy, a retelling.

So here we are, and I accept this presidency with all the honor and trepidation that it entails. A bit of trepidation because of the times we live in. For we are living in challenging times, this year specifically. We are living in a time in which Jewish life is in flux, traditional institutions are being challenged, the Jewish community is organizing—or de-organizing, or re-organizing—differently.

We are living in a time in which tensions of anti-Semitism have been brought to the surface, license has been given to those who espouse hate and exploit difference, and a government is in place that trends towards oligarchy and neglects the obligation to protect the most vulnerable. And this year marks the 50th anniversary of the 1967 War, which began an occupation that today I believe is one of our great moral challenges as a Jewish people.

Indeed, challenging times. And I am sure that all of us are asking the question of where we belong, what our response is, how do we orient ourselves in this new reality. And as individuals, so to as an association. And I think that we, as the RRA, and Reconstructionism as it has since the beginning, continues to offer an answer to the times in which we live.

The RRA itself has been in some transition. We are the rabbinical association associated with the Reconstructionist movement, working alongside the other institutions of the movement to advance common goals and interests. And we will continue to navigate and negotiate what that relationship looks like as the College—now with the congregational arm under the same roof—under Deborah [Waxman]’s wise leadership sets its direction and makes its decisions, and we as an association make ours.

Ultimately, we are an association of Reconstructionist Rabbis. An association of Rabbis who share a common outlook and purpose, orientation and vision. An association whose membership comes from across the Jewish landscape, who find common cause with the aims and goals of the association, who find value in the ethical integrity of our professional standards, who find an intellectual and spiritual home here.

So what is it that we have to offer as Reconstructionist rabbis?

For me it keeps coming back to the theme of this convention, that of Jewish peoplehood. And I know we have been wrestling with what this means. For me, when I think of serving the Jewish people, it means that we as Reconstructionist rabbis embrace: an unapologetic progressivism, total inclusivity and a radical egalitarianism.

With a commitment to the Jewish people, we can state that we are committed to progressive values—actively evolving and not just waiting for outside forces to necessitate an adaptation. That we are committed to a level of equality and justice that necessitates taking a progressive political stance in the face of political forces that would preach difference and otherness. That we fully embrace and emphasize as core to our identity an active engagement in social justice efforts and cultivating interfaith relationships. And we unapologetically committed to a progressive theology that recognizes the fundamental human need for spiritual inquiry, flourishing and transformation, and being able to cultivate the forms and language necessary to meet people where they are.

With a commitment to the Jewish people, we must embrace inclusivity in all its forms, and recognize the dynamic nature of the Jewish people, celebrating diversity in race, class, gender identity, sexual orientation, and lineality. In the communities we serve we must approach from a place of non-judgment those who seek to participate in our congregations or be counted among the Jewish people, regardless of their background or personal Jewish history. And we embrace those with multiple identities.

And with a commitment to the Jewish people, we embrace a radical egalitarianism that must transcend basic notions of betzelem Elohim and equal participation, to what I believe to be a fundamental and necessary reorientation and realignment of the American Jewish community, to advocate for the guarantee, through means and not just words, that each and every member of the Jewish people has the same access, the same opportunities, the same learning as everyone else.

And if you will allow me to get on my most recent personal soapbox, and address an issue I have been thinking a lot about lately. Because as it stands now, we, as an American Jewish community, do not guarantee the same access to resources for all Jews. While we are quick to point out the wealth gap within our larger society, we are less willing to point it out when it comes to our own community. And I do not mean this about among Jews, but among Jewish institutions.

I’m going to mention synagogues because that is the world I know, knowing that most of our members don’t serve congregations, so while the specific example may not resonate, maybe the idea will. We, within the organized Jewish community, have fully embraced market capitalism. Synagogues are independent entities whose primary sources of funding are our members, and therefore those congregations with members able to give more will have more and those less, less. We are in competition, we measure success by size and growth, and we seek upward mobility. We strive for more dollars because the synagogues with more resources will thus have more to offer and the members of those congregations will thus have more and better Jewish knowledge and experiences than those that do not. The synagogue income gap leads to the Jewish knowledge and experience gap.

In addition, synagogues outside the geographic centers of institutionalized Jewry have less access to resources, and to access those resources—speakers, classes, musicians, etc.—to them requires additional expenditures. And size doesn’t matter, for two 150 member congregation can be comprised of two different population bases with different giving abilities.

The Jewish community loves to fund innovation. But what we fail to realize is that innovation is a relative term—one congregation’s normal is another congregation’s innovation. The true innovation I suggest is not to fund some fancy new project, but to fundamentally think about how we organize and fund the American Jewish community through a system of redistributing wealth so that we are sure that we are raising up all Jews. This to me is radical egalitarianism.

A progressive, inclusive, egalitarian Jewish people. That is what Reconstructionism means to me. What the RRA can continue to create. This is what brings me to this point of service to the association.

And while we as an association of rabbis have this tremendous role to shape the Jewish future, we as an association must also care for those who are doing that shaping. For the success of the RRA will depend on how best we can care for our members, both personally and professionally.

This is the thirteenth year of my rabbinate, all served in the same congregation. I am a bar mitzvah rabbi. And the analogy is apt, because it is after this time that I feel I have grown into a level of maturity and understanding. In my rabbinate now I have officiated at the bar and bat mitzvahs of children I brought into the covenant, married young adults whose bat mitzvah I officiated, and I have buried people I have come to know and love.

My time in the rabbinate has been one of tremendous personal growth, and as I look back, I realize the reasons that brought me into the rabbinate are different than the ones that sustain me now. Ironically, it was only in the rabbinate that I became committed to social justice and the power, the promise and the potential to societal change, to raise up moral voice to issues of common concern.

And ironically, it was only in the rabbinate that I became a spiritual seeker, embracing the kavannah and not just the keva, embracing the traditional matbeah, the forms, the rituals and at the same time rejecting them outright as hindrances and obstacles. My seeking has allowed me to open myself up to wisdom, truth and inspiration from all places, whatever the source.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             Throughout these 13 years I have been held by my community, felt the warm embrace of their love and support and also struggled with the profound loneliness that comes from being one of, yet other than.

I’ve learned that as rabbis we must know what we don’t know, and at the same time desire new growth and opportunity. The combination, as Parker Palmer puts it, of “humility and chutzpah.” We need to take care of our physical and emotional selves, and we recognize that some days what we do is a calling, and some days it is just a job. We as an association form this web of mutual support to ensure the continued growth and development of us as rabbis, to advocate for the continued professionalism of the rabbinate, to raise up our voices as the intellectual inheritors of our Reconstructionist ancestors, and to nurture our individual selves.

These have been interesting years of transition and challenge for our association. Aside from leadership change we have faced tensions within our association specifically around the issues of intermarriage among rabbis and what positions we should embrace regarding Israel. These are potent conversations that we are continuing to have. But we can not do so without recognizing that at the heart of both of those conversations is the same feeling: a deep anxiety about the Jewish future because of our love and commitment to Judaism and Jewish continuity. And while it has pushed against the boundaries of our association and created tension among our membership, underneath it all we must remember that we all share the same hopes and fears for our collective whole, and the same desires and needs as individual selves.

I will end with a bit of Torah.

In my shul we have a monthly Talmud study group, and we are studying Berachot, essentially reading through the entire masechet, and we just came to that famous story in which Rabban Gamliel was deposed as head of the academy for bad behavior. After he was deposed, the text describes, the guard at the door was removed, anyone who wanted to enter was allowed to enter, hundreds of benches were added, and tremendous advances in learning and halakhah were made.

This story in and of itself is worth remembering because of its echoes of progressivism, inclusivity and egalitarianism. But just prior to this in the story, Rabbi Elazar ben Azariyah was approached to be the head of the academy. And he first went to ask his wife what she thought. And she was wary, and suggested that perhaps just as they were quick to depose Rabban Gamliel, they will depose him as well.

And his reply? He cited a folk saying: lishtamesh eynash yoma chada b’khasa d’mokra, ulmachar litvar. “Let a person use an expensive goblet one day, and let it break tomorrow.” In other words, just because we do not know what tomorrow will bring, should not stop us from doing what we need to do right now.

None of us does know what the future holds, or the eventual impact of the decisions we make today. So we make most of the expensive goblets we have been given today to teach our Torah, to serve our people, to transmit tradition and to exercise our creativity. And simply to do the best we can.

And I know, that as long as there are rabbis who identify with Reconstructionism, who desire a professional association committed to the highest standards and the highest ideals, there will be a need for the RRA.

I look forward to this opportunity to do what I can to continue strengthen our association, to learn and grow from the experience, to help make the RRA what you need it to be so you can continue do the awesome work that you do. I humbly thank you for the trust you have given to me, and I will do my best to live up to it.

Thank you.

Shabbat Morning Quarterback: My Take on the Seahawks Loss

“The thing you are doing is not good.”

These are the words spoken by Jethro to his son-in-law Moses in this week’s Torah portion. The Israelites are settling into their new life since leaving Egypt and adjusting to being a newly freed community. Moses is adjudicating all of the disputes of the Israelites, who line up all day and all night to present their grievances. This prompts Jethro’s response, who advises Moses to set up a more efficient court system.

“The thing you are doing is not good.” These words are a variation of what has been repeated all week, after the stunning loss of the Seattle Seahawks in the Superbowl. In the final seconds of a thrilling game, the Seahawks found themselves down by four points with the ball on the Patriots one yard line. A touchdown would win the game. On second down, quarterback Russell Wilson dropped back to pass, and the Patriots intercepted. The game was over with a heartbreaking loss after being so close to victory.superbowl

What made the loss that much painful is the choice to throw the ball in the first place. The Seahawks have one of the best running backs in the NFL, Marshawn Lynch, known as “Beast Mode.” Lynch, who can barrel forward bringing defenders with him. Lynch, whose strength and skill is seemingly made for this type of play. Why did the coaches decide to throw the ball instead of just running it into the end zone?

Since the game I have read way too much commentary and analysis on the play. Some are calling it the worst call in Superbowl history. Others analyze the thought process and understand why a passing play might have been appropriate. One of the more interesting articles analyzed the call in relation to game theory. But in any event, whether it was a bad call, or a bad execution or both—the Seahawks came very close to winning a second Superbowl and blew it in the end.

Not long before the Superbowl, I came back from a retreat with the Institute for Jewish Spirituality, as part of my 18-month Clergy Leadership Program. It was an amazing experience of prayer, song, meditation, yoga and study. And now, as I am back from retreat, I continue learning with a weekly hevruta (study partner).

[I should say that my hevruta is a rabbi in the Boston area, and he showed up to our weekly Skype session this week wearing a Patriots jersey. Sigh.]

The theme of our study is an examination of middot (character traits) that we are meant to focus on and inculcate within ourselves. The practice is to make us better people, and thus better leaders. The study is drawn from Jewish texts, mostly from the Hasidic tradition, but we also read a wonderful article by the contemporary spiritual writer Parker Palmer.

In that article, Leading from Within, Palmer identifies 5 “shadows”—or negative traits—that affect leaders today. One is—in a beautiful phrase—“functional atheism.” That is, the belief that responsibility rests solely with me as an individual. Our IJS teachers have presented us with five middot that are meant to balance the shadows. The middah that my hevruta and I studied this week that is meant to “counter” that shadow is bitachon, or trust.

Why trust? As I understand it, it is because when we live under the shadow of functional atheism, we operate under the assumption that we are the only one that matters. That whatever we do or don’t do is the sum total of everything, that it all begins and ends with us. But this is misguided, it is an ego response. Having trust—in God, in the greater system, in each other—allows us to understand that it isn’t all about us, but that we are part of a larger whole that works in ways that sometimes we can not fully understand. Having trust allows us to see beyond ourselves, and understand that nothing can be reduced to one thing, one act, one person, one choice.

So here is my Superbowl analysis: No game can be defined by one call, one play. In sports, we tend to need a “goat,” someone to blame when things go wrong. But that is the wrong response. The game could have been different at many different times. The Patriots quarterback Tom Brady threw an end zone interception which could have been a touchdown. There are other plays that could have turned out differently, other choices that would have had different results. Just because they didn’t happen at the end of the game doesn’t mean they didn’t have an effect on the outcome.

That last play didn’t lose the game any more than it would have won it if it was successful. The Seahawks unfortunately lost because of everything that happened on that field. And heartbreaking as the loss was, we can have trust that a team is not just defined by one play or one game.

And there is always next season.