Is hockey hard? I don’t know, you tell me. We need to have the strength and power of a football player, the stamina of a marathon runner, and the concentration of a brain surgeon. But we need to put all this together while moving at high speeds on a cold and slippery surface while five other guys use clubs to try and kill us, oh yeah did I mention that this whole time we’re standing on blades 1/8 of an inch thick? Is ice hockey hard? I don’t know, you tell me. Next question.– Brendan Shanahan, three-time Stanley Cup Champion
The system of sefirot is one of striving for balance, where the various (divine) attributes are meant to live in a state of mutually beneficial balance. Being entirely on one side or another is viewed as dangerous, and our first two sefirot are a perfect example.
Last week, the first week in our counting journey, was all about hesed or love – unrestrained, idealistic, uplifting. This week we are introduced to the counterpoint: gevurah, or power (sometimes also described as din or judgment). How is power the opposite or balancing force for love? As my teacher Art Green explains:
[t]he divine wisdom also understands that love alone is not the way…Judaism has always known God to embody judgment as well as love…Too much love and there is no judgment, none of the moral demand that is so essential to the fabric of Judaism. But too much power or judgment is even worse. (A Guide to the Zohar, pp. 43-4)
Gevurah, then, is about the proper use and expression of power, about knowing that sometimes clear lines need to be drawn and enforced. It takes a great deal of discernment to know when and to what extent to use our power, which brings to mind the famous saying from Pirkei Avot (2:6): “In a place where there is no man, try to be a man.” Leaving aside, for now, the problematic gender implications of how the Mishnah is phrased, the teaching is clear – we are called upon to step up when there is a vacuum of leadership. Less well known, though, is that the Gemara (b. Berakhot 63a) argues that the inverse must also be true:
And where there is no man, there be a man. Abaye said: Infer from this that where there is a man, there do not be a man.
The rabbis are modelling a sensitivity to both using the power we have when called upon and a worry about getting drunk on power, thinking that the spotlight should follow us around. There are few people alive today who have to struggle continually with figuring out how to hold on to gevurah in a right-sized way like professional athletes. So this week we’re highlighting those hockey players who do it best.
For a hockey player, it all starts with training. One must prepare their mind and body for a hockey season in intricate detail and with exquisite attention. Functional training is essential for a hockey player to develop proper movement patterns and increase strength. The goal is to continuously improve body awareness to build muscle, balance, speed, agility, and overall athleticism along with keeping mentally sharp and eating healthy. It’s the awareness of one’s strength that allows an NHLer to grow and develop into the best version of themselves possible.
This is the approach of retired hockey player Gary Roberts, Stanley Cup Champion, and three-time NHL All-Star. Roberts started his own High-Performance Training Platform to work with athletes on their physical and mental capabilities, as a way to help advance athletic integrity in hockey. After his own career took a turn for the worst (a severe neck injury that required two invasive surgeries to correct) he committed to a dramatic conditioning plan that focused on fitness and nutrition. Roberts returned to play twelve more seasons in the NHL, and once he returned was compelled to give back to athletes who could benefit from his program. He now works with some of the best hockey players in the world, like Connor McDavid (two-time Art Ross Trophy winner), and Steven Stamkos (two-time Maurice Richard Trophy winner).
What makes Roberts so appealing as a trainer is that he practices what he preaches. Steven Stamkos, one of the best young players in the game today, appreciates what Roberts brings each day to training. “To be able to relate to a trainer was huge. He’s gone through it, has played in the NHL, knows what the body feels like on a day-to-day basis. Watching him helped too. There was a 42-year-old guy at the time who was the hardest-working guy on our team. I’m sitting there as 18-year-old thinking I’m working hard, but I’m watching this guy, who has done everything you can in the NHL — scored 50 goals, won the Stanley Cup, has nothing to prove — trying to help a kid like me. It was the best thing for me when he asked me to work out.”
If Gevurah is genuinely about the proper use and expression of power, about knowing that sometimes clear lines need to be drawn and enforced, there is no better training for a hockey player than the kind of program Roberts offers. The physical and mental commitment one must have to be an athlete is only attainable by the best of the best.