Coach Moses

 Dear Rabbi,

Knute Rockne one of the most famous football coaches who ever lived used his ability as a motivational speaker to urge his players on to victory. His most memorable speech was the following:

"Well, boys ... I haven't a thing to say.  Played a great game...all of you. Great game. 
I guess we just can't expect to win ‘em all.  I'm going to tell you something I've kept to myself for years -- None of you ever knew George Gipp.  It was long before your time.  But you know what a tradition he is at Notre Dame... And the last thing he said to me -- "Rock," he said - "sometime, when the team is up against it -- and the breaks are beating the boys -- tell them to go out there with all they got and win just one for the Gipper...
I don't know where I'll be then, Rock", he said - "but I'll know about it - and I'll be happy."

I don't know how religious Knute Rockne was and I am pretty sure he was not Jewish, but I would be willing to bet that he read this week's parshah, Nitzavim, and it had a profound effect on the way he coached. For all of his greatness as a coach, he doesn't hold a candle to the most legendary coach in Jewish history, Moses. 

In this week’s reading, Nitzavim, Moses gathers the Israelites on the day of his passing to enter them into a covenant with G‑d. He warns of the exile and desolation of the Holy Land that will result when Israel abandons G‑d’s laws, but assures them that they will eventually repent, and G‑d will then return His people to the Land. This portion also talks about freedom of choice and the mitzvah of teshuvah (repentance).

"Coach" Moses goes all out to get his "team" ready for the "game. In the Second Aliyah he tells the Israelites that there is a covenant established with the Israelites as G‑d’s exclusive nation. The covenant, Moses explained, was not limited to those who were physically present on that day; rather, it included all future generations of Jews as well. This is the coach reaching out to future "players" that they are part of the team as well. 

Going on with the team concept the Third Aliyah says: Moses warned of the dire consequences which will befall the individual, family or tribe which would forsake their covenant with G‑d. This section concludes with the concept of communal responsibility for not appropriately punishing individual sinners. In other words we are all in this together and will rise or fall as a team. 

In the Fourth Aliyah Moses informed the Israelites what will occur after they are exiled from their land due to their sins. Eventually they will wholeheartedly return to G‑d, and G‑d will gather them from the furthest reaches of the heavens and return them to the land of their forefathers. At that point, Moses says, “G‑d will ‘circumcise’ your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you may love the L‑rd your G‑d with all your heart and with all your soul.” This goes to the basic principal of any coach to tell his or her players to never give up.
Carrying on in the Fifth Aliyah Moses gives the team more inspiration with the following: When G‑d gathers His people’s exiles, the curses which accompanied them throughout their sojourn in foreign lands will be placed upon their enemies who persecuted them. The Israelites will once again serve G‑d, and will be blessed with abundance in the work of their hands, the fruit of their wombs, the fruit of their land and the fruit of their livestock. Looking at it from the coach's point of view, keep at it and you will eventually triumph.
In the Sixth Aliyah the analogy to a good coach and digging deep when you have to as a player can seen when Moses enjoins the people to follow the mitzvot, informing them that “it is not beyond you, nor is it remote from you. It is not in heaven . . . It is not across the sea . . . Rather, it is very close to you, in your mouth, in your heart, that you may do it.” 

The Seventh Aliyah ends it perfectly with the following: Moses tells the Jewish people that they have been given free choice to choose between good and evil, life and death. Their choice will determine whether they are the beneficiaries of G‑d’s blessings or curses. Moses implores the Israelites to choose life. What better way to get the players to perform at their best than asking them to do the right thing and it will all work out. 



Dear Mordecai,

I love the comparison of Moses to Knute Rockne. Of course, I’ve hear the story of “Win One for the Gipper.” You successfully aligned the theme of Moses as coach with each of the aliyot.
 Interestingly, one of the great scars I bear is from a former coach, so I can appreciate the importance of having a good coach. A good coach wants his team to win, but he also wants his players to be better players. This coach was the first experience that I had with a liar. He had made promises to me about my future “career” on the varsity basketball team, but then kept me on the bench for two seasons. I finally got to play in my third when we got a new coach.

 I have trouble tracking time in the Book of Deuteronomy. Does its entirety take place in one day? You said that Moses gathered them on the day of his passing. That suggests that the beginning of Deuteronomy may have taken place before that.