I was always a major sports fan. In between participating in a variety of extreme sports, I would go running from stadium to stadium, cheering on my favorite teams. If you believe that, have I got a bridge to sell you! I can’t think of anything further than the truth. But back in the day, I did attend a Knicks game with a friend. My friend was somewhat of a sports fan and I had always wondered what the big fuss was about, with men running around and throwing balls into baskets. When we left the stadium a few hours later, my friend was on a high and I was filled with the same questions I’d always had.
Baseball is a bit different for me, but not much. With two first cousins named Yanky (one actually spells it Yankee), I was an avowed Yankees fan, which in practice meant that when I sat in the company of people discussing baseball, I spoke with an air of confidence and authority singing the praises of the team and sport I essentially knew nothing about. Yes, I knew the names of a few of the greats: Micky Mantle, Babe Ruth, and Joe DiMaggio. I even vaguely remember the excitement when Hank Aaron hit his 715th home run, breaking Babe Ruth’s record. I knew how to “rah” with my fists in the air and boo on cue. I expressed feigned horror when in the 1981 World Series, the Yankees lost a game played in LA against the Dodgers, and I allowed myself to be comforted by a friend who asked me, “Wouldn’t it be so much better if our Yankees would win the World Series at home rather than in LA?” She had a point. I was suddenly convinced that it was a chesed of Hashem that the Yankees had lost the game in LA so that they could go on to win on their own turf. But much to my disappointment, they lost at home as well, consequently losing the World Series. Truth is, I have gone to a handful of baseball games in my day, and while I find the game slow and boring, and I don’t exactly understand why the players have to spit quite that much, I enjoy the atmosphere and traditions: singing the national anthem, the excitement in the bleachers, seventh-inning stretch, “Charge!”, mascots, and singing “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.” But you have just read absolutely everything I know about baseball and sports. My loyalty to my cousins never faded, however, and I consider myself a Yankees fan to this day.
I’ve attended just a few sports games in Israel. I went with my kids to a basketball game last Pesach and I have fond memories of the summer of 2007, when Kibbutz Gezer Field was the home ground for Israeli baseball teams Modi’in Miracle and Bet Shemesh Blue Sox in the Israel Baseball League. (The 2007 season was Israel Baseball League’s one and only season.) Hatikvah was sung before each game and only kosher hotdogs were sold. We locals walked around with our heads held high when the Beit Shemesh Blue Sox won the championship game.
I don’t follow sports here in Israel and I only found out about the monthlong World Cup competition (known here as the Mondial) by chance. On day one, I was eating dinner with family visiting from abroad at Kikar Hamusica in Yerushalayim. Kikar Hamusica is a square in the center of town located in between several restaurants next door to The Hebrew Music Museum. Live music is performed nightly on the stage set at the front of the square. On that particular night, a screen was positioned right behind the performing musicians, broadcasting the opening night of the competition. This reminded me of Chol Hamoed 2011, when Gilad Shalit, a soldier who had been captured by Palestinians in a cross-border raid and held in captivity in Gaza for five years, was released as part of a prisoner exchange deal. While much of the population was up and about participating in Chol HaMoed activities throughout the country, we all waited with curious anticipation to see those first moments of Shalit’s release. We had taken our kids bowling that day and the bowling alley had set up a huge screen for their patrons to watch the news while they played their games. It seems that many have been sitting on the edge of their seats during the entire month of the Mondial and want to be constantly updated about what is happening in the competition.
Approximately 30,000 Israelis traveled to Qatar to watch the games, and many more have been watching from Israel. But since that night at Kikar Hamusica, I personally hadn’t heard much about the Mondial until now. The final game was scheduled to start at 5 p.m. Sunday evening, exactly the same time that candles were meant to be lit on the first night of Chanukah. Rabbanim expressed concern that many would delay lighting candles so that they wouldn’t miss the Mondial. Several Rabbanim from the south sent out a letter urging their constituents not to delay lighting Chanukah candles nor to rush through candle lighting. They stated that it is preferable to light a few minutes early with the television off. They suggested using the event as an opportunity to show their families explicitly that nothing in this world, even the Mondial, compares to fulfilling Torah and mitzvos, and also to show Hashem that we love Him even more than the thing we love the most.
The question of whether it is halachically permissible to delay lighting Chanukah candles in order to watch the Mondial was posed to several Rabbanim. One of those asked was Rav Zamir Cohen, the producer of the first religious television channel in Israel and the chairman of Hidabroot, a Chareidi kiruv organization. Rav Cohen answered the question by posing another question to those listening to his lecture: Who do you think gets more reward for lighting candles? A Gadol Hador who lights candles at 5 p.m. in Yerushalayim or a more secular guy in Tel Aviv who wants to watch the Mondial but misses the first few minutes so that he can light Chanukah candles? He explained that the secular guy gets more reward because he sacrificed to do so. The Gadol looked forward to lighting candles and lit. The guy from Tel Aviv looked forward to the Mondial and waited. He further explained that the fact that the time for lighting candles coincides perfectly with the start of the game is clearly from Hashem. The whole concept of sport comes from the city of Sparta, located in Greece. They came to Eretz Yisrael and wanted us to stop doing mitzvos and instead embrace their culture. This is exactly what the Maccabim were fighting against. Hashem gave victory to the weak over the mighty. This is why we light candles on Chanukah. What better way is there to celebrate Chanukah than by putting our Chanukah candles before the Mondial?
Chanukah Sameach to all!