“Finding G-d in the Game: The Spiritual Lessons of Chess”

This was a presentation CEO National Master Evan Rabin gave at Manhattan Jewish Experience this past Shabbat, Friday, May 5, 2023:

Shabbat Shalom, everyone! For those of you that don’t know me, I am a Senior Fellow at MJE, where every week, I learn three hours of Torah through chavrusa, a class with Rabbi Pinny Rosenthal, and Rabbi Mark Wildes’ Tanya class. I made MJE headlines when I met my wife Stacey Ehrlick at Rabbi Avi Heller‘s MJE East Shabbat dinner in February 2022, got engaged six weeks later and got married six months after that, in September 2022. My quote on quote ‘day job’ is running Premier Chess, which runs programs in 80+ schools, corporate classes at companies including the law firm Kramer Levin and Google, private lessons and more.

Raise your hand if you were enamoured by the Queen’s Gambit on Netflix. Raise if your hand if you know how to move the pieces (One out of four adults do). Now it is time for a trivia question- What night do each year, dozens of chess players show up at 770 Eastern Parkway, Chabad Headquarters? (Answer: Nittle Nacht, A.K.A Christmas Eve).

Through the sanctity of time, planning and the value of a pawn, chess helps us connect with our creator.

In this week’s Parsha, Emor, we read “
And from the day on which you bring the sheaf of elevation offering—the day after the sabbath—you shall count off seven weeks. They must be complete: you must count until the day after the seventh week—fifty days; then you shall bring an offering of new grain to יהוה.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks explains how the period of omer creates a sancticty of time. In chess, each tempo matters; every move should have a distinct purpose. Several of my coaches explained how time is equivalent to money. It is common to sacrifice a pawn in exchange for getting a lead in development; i.e, more active pieces.

As Benjamin Franklin used to say, “Planning to fan is planning to fail.”. If you are this dinner, chances are you have heard of the great book The 40 Day Challenge. In case you have not, don’t worry. I won’t tell Rabbi Mark Wildes. He gives 40 daily teachings and exercises for the 40 days leading up to Yom Kippur. If one wants to achieve a great page in the book of atonemnet on Yom Kippur, he cannot just show up. He needs to prepare, starting on Rosh Chodesh Elul, 40 days before. One of the most meaningful times in my life was davening at the Kotel with thousands of others at midnight during Selichot one night in August 2018.

at the Western Wall in Jerusalem

It goes without saying that planning is an integral part of chess, as we need to visualize ahead and always have a plan, whether it is a king side attack, queenside expansion, manouver, etc.

Rabbi Levi Welton taught me how the Lubavitcher Rebbe compared a Jew to a pawn in chess.

The Rebbe playing with father.

A Jew naturally is of a lower status than angels. However, when a Jew prays, he could rise his status above them. While a pawn is the lowest value piece (1 point), it could promote to a queen (9 points), above a bishop, or knight (3 points) or a rook (5 points).

Chess is a common shabbat activity. Not only is it fun but it is also a way to help us find hashem through the sanctity of time, planning and the value of a pawn. The best podcast is around is The Wildescast. When you’re done listening to every episode on there, you may enjoy listening to some more insights about chess and torah on the Premier Chess podcast from episodes with Rabbis Mark Wildes, Levi Welton, Mendy Brukirer and Avram Mlotek, B”H. Shabbat Shalom and Checkmate!

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