After You Get Punched in the Face
Super Bowl XLIII certainly ranks as one of the greatest sports upsets of all time, with the New York Giants defeating the undefeated and seemingly invincible New England Patriots. In a postgame interview, Giant star Michael Strahan explained that his team had won by throwing the Patriots off with unrelenting pressure, which worked because “everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face.”
While this short quote is meant to describe football and boxing, it is also an excellent description of life. Many people have brilliant futures until an unforeseen event derails their lives, their grand plans undone by an unexpected punch in the face. Families are shattered by divorce and discord, careers ruined by bad luck, and lives disabled by illness and injury. The punch in the face leaves many a person down for the count.
After getting punched in the face, there’s a great deal of pain accompanied by humiliation. For those accustomed to success, the bitter taste of failure is sometimes too difficult to swallow. After major losses in the financial markets, German Billionaire Adolf Merckle threw himself in front of a train; after losing hundreds of millions of dollars in clients money to Bernie Madoff’s scheme, French banker René-Thierry Magon de la Villehuchet took his own life. The anguish and embarrassment of defeat can be a knockout punch.
However, there are people who have been beaten and humiliated, but refused to throw in the towel. These determined losers seem absurd, continuing to fight on after the battle seems lost.
This quixotic determination is evident throughout the history of the Jewish people. Until the establishment of the State of Israel, Jewish history was a long string of defeats, with the Jews hanging on from one beating to another. Why did we do this? Why keep getting up off the canvas, just to be knocked down another time?
Joseph provides the answer. Joseph antagonizes his brothers with his dreams and his status as Jacob’s favourite son; but one day, on a mission of peace, Jacob sends Joseph to the city of Shechem to check on the welfare of his brothers. Instead of giving Joseph a chance, the brothers seize him and sell him into slavery. For the rest of his days, Joseph struggles mightily to rebuild his life and family.
Yet at the end of his life, The Midrash tells us that Joseph makes a strange request: to be buried in Shechem, the very city he traveled to on the day he was sold into slavery. What could possess Joseph to choose the location of his humiliating “punch in the face” as his final resting place?
The answer is simple: Joseph had a mission. That day, he had set out to Shechem in hope of attaining peace with his brothers; and even though he had been kidnapped, enslaved and exiled to another country, Joseph never let go of this dream. And in the end, he chooses a final resting place that reflects his determination to fulfill his mission.
"He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how." This pithy quote from Nietzsche best describes Joseph’s return to Shechem, and Jewish people’s return to Israel; and it also reminds us that if you’re on a mission, the game plan remains the same, both before and after the punch in the face.