Three Lessons from Kobe Bryant’s Sudden Death

News of Kobe Bryant’s sudden death Sunday has sent a wave of shock to millions of people worldwide.

Sport-stars, politicians, and fans of all backgrounds have also voiced their grief and condolences as they spoke about the tremendous influence that Kobe has had on their lives. But as many continue to mourn the passing of this larger-than-life basketball legend, allow me to suggest three lessons we ought to draw from this tragedy and from Kobe’s life and legacy:

  1. You Only Own What You Give

From the moment Kobe Bryant rose to the center stage of the basketball world, he never ceased to dazzle, and inspire, fans across the globe.

His unique talents and athletic abilities and his elevated basketball-IQ were extraordinary. But they weren’t the only reason behind the profound admiration of his fans. For more than his marvels on-the-court, it was his marvels off-the-court that captivated our minds, and won our hearts.

Rabbi Reuven and Chani Mintz, the directors of Chabad of Newport Beach, shared with me how Kobe would visit their “Friendship Circle” — an organization dedicated to “providing pure friendship for children with special needs” — to play basketball with these children, to fortify their spirit, to give them hope, and to beg them to “never stop dreaming and believing.” This is one of many examples that demonstrate Kobe’s kindness and sensitivity, far away from the limelight, to countless individuals in need.

I am sure that, as time goes by, Kobe’s unique combination of his basketball-prodigy that inspired a generation along with the myriads of good deeds he did for goodness sake alone, will stand, bright and tall, as his eternal legacy.

And the lesson to us all is clear: our physical gains are temporary; our materialistic achievements are fleeting; our worldly accomplishments are short-termed. Ultimately, the only true and lasting possessions we possess, are our spiritual ones. Like the charity we give; or like the time we take to heal a broken heart; or like the kindness we demonstrate toward people in need.

In the profound words of my dear mentor, world scholar, Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz: “We only truly forever own, what we give.”

  1. Time for A Change Of Perspective

The thought struck me, once again, as I was reading today the many eulogies and obituaries that have been written thus far on Kobe.

But I dare ask: what happened to all of the criticism? What about the tumultuous relationship he once had with his teammate, Shaquille O’Neal? And what about his brush with the law in 2003, his mistakes, and his failures? Of this, we don’t hear a word.

The reason, I believe, is telling: No – Kobe did not suddenly change upon his passing, and, magically, become a saint. Rather, it is we — and our perspective — that changed.

During a person’s lifetime, we sometimes get lost in the details of life and fail to see the “big picture” in people and in situations. In my Rabbinic capacity, I am, at times, deeply astounded how people severe ties and end friendships because of such banal stupidities.

But when death strikes, a greater, more wholesome picture, emerges. We then begin to see, albeit a little too late, the bright side of the person, and the beautiful life he or she led. Our focus then shifts to the many good deeds the deceased accomplished, with wisdom and grace, generosity and love.

So, here is the question: Do people need to die in order for us to appreciate them? Do we need to lose a loved one before we can truly find him or her? Must “beloved husband or wife, father or mother, brother or sister,” become a posthumous annotation, or can we announce it throughout his or her lifetime as well?

Let us not wait for death to direct our attention to the light and goodness in people. And if we may currently find ourselves in a tenuous relationship with relatives or friends, let us make up with them, today, and not with their tombstones, someday in the distant future.

  1. What Matters Now Is Now

Kobe Bryant died at the young age of 41 years old. Yet we are in awe at how much he managed to accomplish in such a short period of time. One wonders how much more he could have achieved in life. But his years went by too fast.

But this sentiment is true, not only as we look back at the life of Kobe. It seems that life is always eluding us. When children graduate from school, they are convinced that life is still way ahead of them. “We first have to graduate high-school, go to college, get a degree and a well-paying job for life to really begin,” they think to themselves.

But when those goals are finally achieved, many believe that life has still not really begun. And they impatiently wait to reach the years after their retirement to begin to explore and enjoy all that they have always wanted. And then, life too also ends way too fast.

In the words of my dear mentor, world-scholar, Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz: “We devote so much time to the “before” and “after” [stages of life] that we no longer have time to experience the thing itself. When we are in the “before” stage, we think about what will be; in the “after” stage, we think about how things were. Either way, there is nothing to make us hold on to the present… But the focal point of our thinking is not life for the sake of tomorrow, but rather life for the sake of today. What matters now is what is now.”

The lesson is clear: if we wish to live life fully, we too must learn to cherish each and every moment of life, fully and unreservedly. This does not mean that preparing for the phases of life is unnecessary or unimportant. But we ought to treat every day, as if it were the most important, and perhaps, the last day of our lives.

Every day is filled with infinite treasures that will never return. Every moment is filled with opportunities that beg to be actualized. Every hour holds within it blessings that impatiently wait to be unleashed. Yet, too many times, we are shackled by the troubles of our past or the fears of our future that we become complacent, and forget that our most important day of the year may just be… today.

For, as the late Lubavitcher Rebbe once asked, “if we wait until we find the meaning of life, will there be enough life left to live meaningfully?”

About the Author
Rabbi Pinchas Allouche is the founding Rabbi of Congregation Beth Tefillah in Scottsdale, Arizona, where he resides with his wife, Esther, and nine children. He is a respected rabbinic figure, a renowned lecturer, and a prominent author of many essays on the Jewish faith, mysticism, and social-criticism. Besides his academic pedigree, Rabbi Allouche is richly-cultural, having lived in France, where he was born, South Africa and Israel. He is also fluent in English, Hebrew, French and Italian. Rabbi Allouche is a member of AIPAC's National Council, and a member of the Vaad Harabanim, the Orthodox Rabbinic Council of Arizona. Rabbi Allouche's wise, profound, and sensitive perspective on the world and its people, on life and living, is highly regarded and sought-after by communities and individuals of all backgrounds. Rabbi Allouche is also tremendously involved in the Jewish community of Greater Phoenix, and he teaches middle-school Judaics at the local Jewish Day School. Rabbi Allouche is also a blogger for many online publications including the Huffington Post, and The Times of Israel. Rabbi Allouche was listed in the Jewish Daily Forward as one of America's 36 Most Inspiring Rabbis, who are "shaping 21st Century Judaism." Rabbi Allouche can be reached at:
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