The journey from the slavery of Egypt recounted on the Seder night(s) to the pinnacle of Revelation on Sinai is a long one, and the kabbalists who identified the Omer with the sefirot that mark each week (and each day) knew that there would be time to reflect on each of God’s major attributes before Shavuot arrived.
It is telling, though, that we begin the journey by reflecting on hesed, or grace. While being freed from over 400 years of slavery is undoubtedly a sign of God’s limitless love of the Israelites, Jewish tradition tends to portray the God of Exodus as a God of power. God just won a cosmic battle against Pharaoh, who was considered an Egyptian god – this is a story of “outstretched arms” and “mighty hands,” not about love!
But that is only true if the story is read through the narrow lens of the climax of the Exodus story, where the final plagues and the drowning of the Egyptians in the sea is the focus. If we zoom out and consider the story of the Exodus in the context the Torah gives us, it couldn’t be clearer that the freedom the Israelites are gifted is nothing more than the fulfillment of a prophecy God made to God’s most beloved human, Avraham (see Genesis 15:13). Yes, that love manifested itself through miracles and the violent removal of the Israelites from Egypt, but don’t let that blind you to the larger picture. What is truly important is the relationship.
And It’s the same in hockey.
Hockey isn’t known for being full of gentlemen. The one’s who make it to the top often do so through sheer grit and a fair amount of playing through pain (and inflicting it). And we tend to remember the great “signs” and “wonders” on the ice above all else. But this year, with the help of the Omer, we will start where the kabbalists would have us start – by putting the spotlight on those who manage to blend excellence on the ice with menschlichkeit off the ice. Because it is about more than goals, assists, saves and Stanley Cups – it is about the ways in which the best human qualities are modeled by our favourite superstars.
That might include acknowledging greatness during a game.
Or putting fierce rivalries aside to pay tribute to an all-around warrior on the ice.
And it might extend well beyond the televised moments to how players spend their time and money helping others.
Let us know your favourite example of hesed in the world of hockey in the comments!