When you’re playing a game, there are certain rules you have to play by. Some games only have a few rules that are easy to learn, making the game simple to play and quick to master. Then there are games like chess… It’s arguably one of the most complicated games you can take the time to learn how to play; there are rules abound. Chess takes a while to learn and years to really become adept at. And if a game like chess can take so long to master, imagine how much longer it must take to master a game like this existence we call life…
In life, there are rules that you have to follow in order to play the game. If you’re not Jewish , you have 7 basic rules called the Noahide Laws, the commandments given to Noah after the flood ended. If you are Jewish, you have 613 rules to learn instead. And while you can learn the 613 in a few days if you really put your mind to it, playing the game still takes years and years of practice and learning to become adept to truly living your life.
In games, sometimes you win, and sometimes you lose. And when you’re losing, you can usually tell you’re losing. Your king is being worked into a corner as the rest of your chess pieces are being taken off the board one-by-one by your opponent. You know that the loss is impending and because of the rules of the game, there is nothing you can do about it.
How often do we find ourselves in this similar downward spiral? We make one bad move and all of the sudden the game is no longer swinging in our favor anymore… It’s possible to come back from that mistake but it takes hard work, cunning, and patience. And speaking for myself, those are three things that are often in high demand and short supply. So what happens? It’s easier to just let life take its course and one thing leads to another and before we know it, we’re backed into a corner and we don’t know how we got there but we know there is no way out of it. Check-mate.
But what happens when you pause for a second and look up from the board? Something amazing happens, and we realize that no matter how involving and enveloping this game is, it is a game, and there is an existence outside of this game. There is a person playing this game with us, and though they are an opponent in the game, in the existence outside of the game they are truly our friend. This means that something is possible that is entirely outside the rules of the game. You can look up from the board and look your friend in the eyes and tell them, “Hey, I know I’m losing, and there’s no way for me to get out of this, but can we just forget it and start over?” And so you wipe the board clean and start again from scratch, and your king in the corner has another chance to conquer the world.
This is not just a story, but a moshul, an allegory for life. Here in the days of repentance and return leading to Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, we have a unique chance to look up from this game called life and ask G-d, as a friend and a servant and a child, to clear the board and start over. Suddenly our sins become irrelevant and we get a chance to start from scratch. We get another chance to practice the rules of the game and get a little bit closer to figuring out this thing we call life.
Take a look up from the board and notice the true existence of your soul. Our relationship with G-d is not one of opposition, He is our Friend, our Father, and our King. He is waiting for us to return to the “real world” and know that as His people we get one chance a year to wipe the board clean.
Gmar Chasima Tova, may you all be sealed in the Book of Life, Blessing, and Prosperity! And good luck in your next game of chess 😉
[Adapted from a shiur by Rabbi Guth from the Mayanot Tefillah class.]