I found an article published on WebMD in 2021 entitled, “Is Being a Diehard Sports Fan Good for Your Mental Health? One of the reasons given in favor of being a sports fan was ‘escapism’. “Cheering on your favorite sports team may provide a way to escape your daily stresses of life or work,” the article stated. “Some research proposes that the further the sports event location is from your home, the higher the chance of escapism.”
Last Sunday night I sat in my rented apartment in central Israel and turned on my laptop to watch my hometown football team, the undefeated San Francisco 49ers, play their sixth game of the season vs. the Cleveland Browns.
My thoughts were also on my younger brother Yair, called up to reserve duty following the Hamas terror attacks on October 7th, as he tuned into the same game while stationed near Israel’s northern border with Lebanon, watching on his mobile phone.
We both sought to ‘escape’ for a little while, although it was impossible to do so fully, he, for obvious reasons, and me with my TV on in the background, checking the Israeli news at every commercial break during the game (we had no rocket attacks where I was during the game, but I doubt the NFL was the reason).
My chance to escape was delayed a bit as before the game even started, the teams held a moment of silence for the victims of the terror attack on Israel. I was moved as I saw the American football players from both teams stand still, bowing their heads.
But then the game began and I was able to begin my temporary escape. It was a sloppy game (lots of penalties on both teams, poor offensive play by the 49ers, and some really bad calls by the referees – and it was raining in Cleveland too, so you could see the ball slip out of the 49ers quarterback’s hands a couple of times as his passes fell incomplete).
Yet, despite their poor play (both defenses played great, but the offense was dreadful), the 49ers, who trailed 19-17 still had a chance to win the game with a last second 41-yard three point field goal attempt by their rookie kicker.
But, he missed the kick (it sailed wide right) and the 49ers lost their first game of the season.
I was upset and disappointed for a few minutes, but then I realized, it’s just one game and they will surely improve next week (when they play indoors at Minnesota).
I texted that consoling sentiment to my brother too (who had managed to watch the entire game where he was stationed on his phone without his battery running out).
The need to ‘escape’ is also a theme in this week’s Torah portion of Noach. After the flood is over and Noah and his family and all the animals had left the Ark we read the following disturbing story:
Noah, the tiller of the soil, began by planting a vineyard. He drank of the wine and became drunk, and he uncovered himself within his tent. Ham, the father of Canaan, saw his father’s nakedness and told his two brothers outside. But Shem and Japheth took a cloth, placed it against both their backs and, walking backward, they covered their father’s nakedness; their faces were turned the other way, so that they did not see their father’s nakedness. When Noah woke up from his wine and learned what his youngest son had done to him, he said, “Cursed be Canaan; The lowest of slaves shall he be to his brothers.” (Genesis 9:20-25)
Rabbi Alex Israel wrote the following in an essay on his website:
Wine, drunkenness, humiliation, and a curse. This is not a positive story. There are many questions raised by this troubling episode, but I will focus on one simple question. Why did Noah get drunk? Why was getting drunk the first thing he did after the flood?
Here is one rather improbable approach by the Abarbanel:
“Before the Flood there were vines for eating, but not vineyards with rows upon rows of vines for wine production. Noach took saplings that he had kept on the Ark, planting them in rows to make wine. Maybe this is due to the fact that he gave up on life after the Flood, desiring to drink wine rather than water (reminiscent of the flood waters) so that he would never see water again!”
What I take from this passage is that the wine-drinking is a sharp reaction to the Flood. It is an act of escapism.
Many have noted that God encouraged Noah to continue the world after the Flood: “Be fruitful and multiply; abound on the earth and increase on it.” (9:7) But Noah seems to resist. He has no further children. He seems unwilling to bring children into the world.
Rashi emphasises this when he notes that Noah’s family enter the ark separated by gender:
“Noah, with his sons, his wife, and his sons’ wives, went into the ark because of the waters of the Flood” (7:7).
Rashi: The men separately and the women separately, because they were prohibited from engaging in marital relations since the world was steeped in pain.
When the Flood is over, God says:
“Come out of the ark, together with your wife, your sons, and your sons’ wives” (8:16).
Rashi: Here He permitted them to engage in marital relations.
But Noah refuses. Note how Noah retains the gender separation between himself and his wife:
“Noah came out, together with his sons; his wife together with his sons’ wives”(8:18).
Noah despairs for the future. He doesn’t want to repopulate the world! Rav Yitzchak Blau writes:
“According to one midrash (Bereshit Rabba 34:6), Noach incredulously asks “Should I go out and propagate the world only to see it destroyed?” Hashem needs to reassure Noach and convince Noach to emerge and once again begin the building of a world. … Noach’s descent to the bottle reflects the response of escapism. When a person cannot face the overwhelming ugliness about, he can always take refuge in a variety of mind-numbing sedatives.” (http://www.hatanakh.com/tags/noahs-drunkenness)
Ramban sees this story as a warning:
“The episode with Noah and the wine is written as a warning… that even the “Perfect Tzaddik”(6:9) whose righteousness saved all humanity, even he was induced to sin by wine, leading him to a point of absolute humiliation and the curse of his offspring.”
Judaism recognizes the enjoyment that wine brings. Tehillim (Psalms) speaks of: “wine to gladden the heart of man”(104:15), and the Talmud suggests that with festival meals, “there is no rejoicing other than with meat and wine” (Pesachim 109a). The pleasure of wine are commended in a positive framework. However, the Talmud makes the inverse assessment when it recalls Noah’s experience, presenting it as a cautionary tale of the curses of misplaced and excessive drinking and the dangers of drunkenness:
“There is nothing that brings woe to a person more that wine” (Berachot 40a)
I (Yonatan) was thinking about what Rabbi Alex Israel wrote, about how Noach couldn’t deal with the trauma he had experienced following the whole ordeal of the flood and the ark and all the destruction, so he ‘escaped’ by getting himself drunk. I don’t condone what he did, but I can understand it.
I think my conclusion is that ‘escapism’, like wine (or any form of alcohol), is ok, even maybe good for you, if consumed in moderation, but you should not overdo it. In fact, I would say that a little escapism would be good for all Israelis right now, but we simply can’t afford to completely escape reality, as difficult as it is we all need to be on high alert right now (escaping for brief moments when safe to do so).
On Sunday night, right after the 49ers kicker missed that kick, I turned off my computer and turned back to the Israeli TV news and I had another epiphany. Right now my favorite football team can afford to lose one game, but my country can’t.
For us in Israel, this war again Hamas is about life or death.
And unlike the 49ers on Sunday, we just can’t afford to lose.