Jews & Sports

from Big Mo's Sports Desk

"From Kings to Pawns": The Game of Chess

[By Rabbi Simon Jacobson]

Chess is a battle waged by an army of soldiers. At the center stands the King, around whom the game revolves. The King is indispensable, and the first and overriding priority of all the soldiers is to protect the King, expand his dominion over the chessboard, and overcome his adversaries. With rare exceptions, the King himself does not enter the fray of battle. The King can move in any direction, one step at a time befitting his limited involvement in the actual battle.

At the King's side stands the versatile Queen who can move in all directions. Flanking the King and Queen are three levels of "officers," each with its own mode of movement and conquest. Their power and reach is less than that of the Queen, but they, too, can move in several directions and advance more than one step at a time.

In the forefront stand the "foot-soldiers" or "pawns." Inferior to the officers, the foot soldiers advance forward only one step at a time.

But the lowly foot soldier possesses a unique power and quality that is far greater than his superiors. An officer can never change his rank: he remains the same throughout the game. But when a foot soldier succeeds in advancing, step by step, to the end of the board, he is elevated to the level of Queen. He cannot, however, become a King, for truly, there is only one King.

Life is a battle and a game, a competition that pits us against the challenges that arouse and reveal our potential. Chess is a metaphor for the various components of this battle, its methods of combat, and its aims.

The King in chess represents the "King of kings" - G-d. The Queen represents malchut d'atzilut - the common source of all souls, which is in a state of "marriage" and unity with G-d. The three levels of officers correspond to the three classes of angels in three (of the four) spiritual worlds, Beria, Yetzira and spiritual Asiya. The lowly "foot soldier" is the finite human being in a confined world.

Challenging this army is a pseudo-army, a virtual battalion equipped with everything from pawns to a "king." For "this opposite the other, G-d created." Every positive creation has its negative counterpart; every spiritual force has its malevolent counter-force; every ray of divine light has its obscuring shadow.

G-d's sovereignty is contrasted by the deification of the material and the temporal. The mission of G-d's army is to overcome its opponent, to reveal the fallacy of its pseudo-truths, to dethrone its god.

The front-line soldiers in this battle are the "foot-soldiers," souls invested in bodies. With their limited powers, they advance painstakingly across the battlefield, defending the King's place in the world, the G-dliness within their own souls (the "queen"), and the spiritual supply lines (the "officers") to the battlefield.

The officers - with their greater power and range - provide the spiritual fortitude to help vanquish the foe. The King remains, for the most part, aloof from the battle, for this is a challenge. He desires that we succeed on our own; but in times of extreme crisis, He is not above lending a decisive, though limited, aid to the battle, even if it means exposing Himself to the line of fire, so to speak.

The "foot soldier" bears the brunt of the battle. Fighting with limited resources, his advance is slow and impeded by the narrow horizons of his world. But when his steady determination advances him to his goal, he reveals the Queen within himself and wins the battle.



Adapted from a public talk by the Lubavitcher Rebbe when Shmuel Reshevsky, a world-class chess master, was in attendance. Reprinted in L'Chaim Weekly #796 with permission of

Rabbi Simon Jacobson is the author of The Meaningful Life and a popular teacher and lecvturer in the New York area.

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