They call me the Rugby Rabbi here in Chicago. My first trip ever to Israel was to play rugby for the South African Jewish rugby team at the Maccabi Games. It was the summer of 1985 and I was 21 at the time - We won the gold medal and that began a journey that eventually led me to becoming a Rabbi. Growing up in South Africa, traditional Jew as I was, rugby was my religion and Saturday was game day.
Today, Judaism is the core of my life and Shabbat is at the very centre of my week. You would think that rugby and Shabbat are polar opposites. Let me give you one example how that is true and one way that it is not. Our rugby team prepared the whole week for each game. On Sunday we recovered, on Monday we reviewed the previous week’s game, on Tuesday we had a regular practice, on Wednesday we rested, on Thursday we ran through our game plan, on Friday we focused on the game psychologically.
For Shabbat, we also prepare all week: early in the week we are still basking in the afterglow of the previous Shabbat; as the next Shabbat draws near we start anticipating it. Over the course of the week we invite guests to join us at our meals, we shop on Tuesday and again on Thursday, cook on Thursday and Friday, clean the house, prepare the table, learn Torah thoughts to share at the Shabbat table.
Here is where rugby and Shabbat are different. Sunday after a rugby game my body was sore (it’s a very tough sport, if you didn’t know). By Monday or Tuesday I had recovered and by Thursday and Friday I was physically back at my peak in time for the game on Saturday. I’m still in fairly good physical shape 30 years after those Maccabi Games, but by Friday afternoon, I feel myself relaxing and my body calming down to the point that on Friday night, I’m usually exhausted and sleep like a baby. During the long summer Shabbat afternoons, I love an afternoon nap. Why is that? Here’s my theory. As much as we prepare our tables with the finest tableware and serve delicious food, as much as we wear fine clothes, that is all a means to an end.
Shabbat is all about our neshama, our soul. It is about reconnecting to our essence, to our connection to the Divine and to the Divine inside us and inside those we are closest to. Through prayer and Torah study, through disconnecting from the busyness of our weekday lives and connecting to our families and friends, we recharge our spiritual lives. So our bodies recede into the background for 25 hours and our neshamas come to the fore. That is why we feel so tired physically and so energized spiritually on Shabbat. Here is wishing you all a wonderful, physically restful and spiritually charged Shabbat.
Rabbi Zev Kahn
Rabbi Zev Kahn is better known in the Chicagoland area as the "Rugby Rabbi" from his days as a former Maccabi Games Gold Medalist in 1985 and 1989. Originally from Port Elizabeth, South Africa, Zev played for UCT and Western Province under 20, before being selected to represent South Africa. Zev came to Chicago after spending six years at Ohr Somayach in Jerusalem, where he completed the Ohr Lagolah teacher training program and was very involved in college student touring programs. The Kahns moved to Chicago in 1998 to work for the Lakewood Kollel, and in 2005 Rabbi Kahn founded JET Jewish Education Team, a campus outreach organization. Now with an additional three full time couples, two in Chicago and one in Champaign at the University of Illinois, JET is the largest student outreach organization in Illinois. In the 201213 academic year JET reached about 1,000 young professionals and college students on over 20 campuses all over Illinois. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org