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July 15, 2021

Championship Merch (Devarim)

So, there you are, watching the NFL Super Bowl, the MLB World Series, the NHL Stanley Cup, or the NBA Finals, and as soon as the clock turns to 0:00, the game is over and only one team wins. Have you ever noticed that within seconds, the players and coaches from the winning team are already wearing championship merch (t-shirts, hats, etc.)?

One of the greatest sports-related philosophical questions that has been bothering me for quite some time is the following: Obviously, the merchandise companies make winning championship gear for both teams competing since both teams have the potential to win. So, what in the world do they do with all of the t-shirts and hats that belonged to the loser, the runner-up, the team that did not end up winning? To illustrate, this past year the Kansas City Chiefs lost to Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the Super Bowl. What happened to all of the t-shirts and hats that said, “Kansas City Chiefs. Super Bowl 55 Champions”?

Amazingly, there are two charity organizations – World Vision and Good360 – that actually collect these t-shirts and hats from the losing team and distribute them to poor people in other countries, such as Haiti, El Salvador, Armenia, and Nicaragua, just to name a few.

But I would like to focus on an important point. That is, going into the final game, both teams have merch created for them that says, “Champions.” Yes, one team is going to win and the other will lose, but at least both teams understand that they have the potential to win. In fact, if a team were to enter the final game with thoughts of, “We are going to lose,” then they have a much greater chance of losing. But if a team enters the final game thinking, “We are going to win. We are going to don those championship t-shirts and hats at the end of the night,” then their chance of winning is at least equal to their opponents.

Whether it’s the Super Bowl, the World Series, or our inner battle with the Yetzer Harah, we have to learn to approach the stage with a winning mentality, a winning mindset, and a winning attitude. We are conditioned to behave based on how we think. Henry Ford once remarked, “Whether you think you can or can’t, you are right.” In life, if we think big and great, we will be big and great. But on the contrary, if we think small and shallow, we will be small and shallow.

In Chapter 1, Verse 7 of Parshas Devarim, the Torah says something astounding in its discussion about the border of Eretz Yisrael: עַד־הַנָּהָ֥ר הַגָּדֹ֖ל נְהַר־פְּרָֽת – until the great river, the Euphrates River. The נהר פרת – Euphrates River – is called גדול, great. Now, that’s very nice and cute, but at the end of the day, there are many more rivers that are “greater” than the Euphrates. By no means is the Euphrates the largest river or even the nicest. So, why is it called נהר גדול – the great river? What made the Euphrates River, in particular, so great?

We need not look too far for an answer, as Rashi, the great medieval commentator, already addresses this. To quote, Rashi says: מִפְּנֵי שֶׁנִּזְכָּר עִם אֶרֶץ יִשְׂרָאֵל קוֹרְאוֹ גָּדוֹל, מְשַׁל הֶדְיוֹט אוֹמֵר עֶבֶד מֶלֶךְ מֶלֶךְ – since the Euphrates River bordered Eretz Yisrael, it is called great, as the common saying says, “A servant of a king is respected like the king.”

The Euphrates River is called “great” since it associates itself with greatness, i.e., the holy land of Eretz Yisrael. The message is clear. The more we think big and associate ourselves with greatness – great people, great ideals, etc. – then we too become great ourselves. When we connect to Hashem, who is called גדול, then we too become great and elevated.

Have a holy Shabbos!