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Let’s Play “Knockout!”

Thursday, 21 November, 2013 - 9:00 pm

The news has been full of “knockout” stories.   Many apparent knockout game attempts have occurred in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Crown Heights.  My friend’s son barely escaped a knockout attack recently.

As I understand it, the rules of "knockout" are as follows:

1. A group of youngsters roams the streets.

2. One of the teens decides to prove his strength.

3. The adolescent selects an unsuspecting passer-by as his victim.

4. The teen punches the stranger as hard as he can, hoping to completely knock him or her down with a single blow.

5. Sometimes, another member of the group records the event and posts a video of the "achievement" online to be sent around and "celebrated."

6. Said teen has now proven his strength. Hurray!


What fun! I'd love to play this game. In fact, I would strongly encourage my entire community to join in as well.

Well, with a few tweaks, that is.

Let me teach you how the game is really supposed to be played.


For that we need to borrow a page from Yosef’s playbook. This week’s Parsha Vayeshev tells how Yosef was sold by his brothers into slavery in Egypt.  He lands in prison for a crime he did not commit. He has all the reason to be angry and disillusioned.

Instead, we find Yosef cheering up others; offering comfort and support to his fellow prisoners. He was the stranger, the scapegoat and the oppressed. Yet, he fought the darkness with light.


isaac theil.jpg

 The photo above, which has gone viral in the last few days, depicts Isaac Theil, a Jewish New Yorker, offering a catnap on his shoulder to a sleepy stranger.  The mobile-phone photographer, a fellow subway passenger, posted the following on Reddit:

Heading home on the Q train yesterday when this young African American guy nods off on the shoulder of a Jewish man. The man doesn't move a muscle, just lets him stay there. After a minute, I asked the man if he wanted me to wake the kid up, but he shook his head and responded, 'He must have had a long day, let him sleep. We've all been there, right?'

He was still sleeping soundly when I got off the train 20 minutes later.

It was a small gesture, but a kind one. I love New Yorkers!


This is the way “knockout” should be played.

It’s perfectly fine to target unsuspecting strangers, not with disgusting violence, but with unrelenting kindness. In fact, let's make a concentrated effort to do so. Find a stranger and knock them off their feet with your kindness. Surprise them. Help them in an unexpected way.

It could be a warm smile that someone desperately needs to get through the day. Maybe helping someone carry their groceries home. Perhaps giving a warm breakfast to the homeless person you see on your way to work. Inviting a complete stranger to join for Shabbat dinner.  The options are endless. When we keep our eyes open and look for them, we'll find the opportunities staring us right in the face.

Oh, and it's okay to record your act of benevolence and share it with your friends. Hopefully, it will inspire them to join the "Kindness Knockout" game too.


Chanukah is arriving next week – together with Thanksgiving! It’s been nearly 100 years since that has happened.

The miracle of Chanukah happened in the 2nd century BCE, when a small band of Jews, the Maccabees, triumphed over the King Antiochus IV's fully-armed and highly trained army. Chanukah marks the victory of religious freedom, of the few conquering the many, of light prevailing over darkness.

Thanksgiving is an American holiday dedicated to thanking G-d for our freedom and opportunity in this great land.

Let's celebrate this "Thanksgivukkah" by playing "knockout" the way it's meant to be played with surprises of love and concern.  Let’s stun strangers with compassion and kindness.

Like Yosef and the Maccabees, we might be in the minority now. But, if we play be these holy rules, our light, too, will prevail over the darkness. As the Chanukah lights remind us, just a bit of light pushes away a lot of darkness.

Comments on: Let’s Play “Knockout!”

Leslie G. wrote...

I decided to play “Knockout!” by telling you how much I enjoyed your post this week, as well as your other weekly musings—which I’ve never commented on before now.


Deanah wrote...

Nice message Rabbi. This "knockout" game is horrendous.
Your response to it is lovely.