search
Joshua Hammerman
Rabbi, award winning journalist, author of "Embracing Auschwitz" and "Mensch-Marks: Life Lessons of a Human Rabbi"

My annual Super Bowl prediction, using Jewish sources

Both eagles and chiefs appear in this week's Torah portion, but which will prevail on Sunday? (I'm not endorsing gambling, but I'm nearly always right)

It should be mentioned up front that I do not endorse excessive gambling, and that past performance is not indicative of future results. That said, my Super Bowl predictions are almost always right.

Here is the case for Philly:

In the Bible, the eagle is referenced over 20 times. In most cases, this majestic bird is seen as a warrior, swooping down on its prey (see Deuteronomy 28:49, Job 9:26 and Jeremiah 48:40, for a few examples). The eagle is also seen as unclean and detestable (Leviticus 11:13), maternal and protective (Deuteronomy 32:11 and, most famously, and in this week’s portion, Exodus 19:4), youthful (Psalms 103:5), bald (Micah 1:16) and mysterious (Proverbs 30:19).

The Talmud emphasizes the eagle’s speed and agility, and its spread wings have come to symbolize arms outstretched in prayer. The Hebrew word for eagle is “Nesher,” which has also been an honorary title for a great person. Maimonides was called “ha-Nesher Hagadol,” the “Great Eagle.”

There are lots of words for “chief” in Jewish sources, all of them more politically correct than the Kansas City team’s name. The most common are “Rosh” (head) and “Sar,” (chief officer).

Amazingly, eagles and chiefs BOTH appear in this week’s Torah portion, Yitro.

Two verses are most revealing:

Ex. 19:4: “You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to Me.”

Ex. 18:21, also in this week’s portion, says this:

“You shall also seek out from among all the people capable men who fear God, trustworthy men who spurn ill-gotten gain. Set these over them as chiefs of thousands, hundreds, fifties, and tens, and let them judge the people at all times. Have them bring every major dispute to you, but let them decide every minor dispute themselves. Make it easier for yourself by letting them share the burden with you.”

Both of these verses are central to the narrative. One speaks of Moses’ need to delegate leadership, a recommendation made by his father in law Jethro. The other leads up to the climactic moment when the Ten Commandments were to be given at Mt. Sinai.

What are these verses trying to tell us?

The “chief” passage seems to be indicating that K.C., like Moses, will do better if they share the burden – and the football. If Mahomes hands off to his running backs more often than expected and, when he throws, spreads the ball around to all his receivers, he’ll thrive.

For Philly, the message is clearly, “Fly, Eagles, Fly.” Take to the air, early and often.

For both teams, the strategies being suggested by the Torah are counterintuitive. The Chiefs like to pass first and the Eagles are known to be an excellent running team, who would presumably want to shorten the game with long, plodding drives.

But Chiefs gotta run and Birds gotta fly. I don’t necessarily agree, but that’s what I’m seeing in the text.

Oh, and the clincher might just be this commentary on the eagle verse, from Rashi, a commentary that makes reference to both teams.

The eagle – and God – must have had an impenetrable offensive line to fend off all those blitzing attackers.

The eagle is a role model…but the chieftains in chapter 18 are too – “capable, trustworthy, spurning ill-gotten gains.” Rashi suggests there that “capable” means wealthy, so they can’t be bribed. All well and good, but perhaps the Chiefs embarrassment of riches, especially at quarterback, will not serve them well on this field of battle. It should be said, though, that both teams have won Super Bowls in the last half decade.

It should be mentioned that just as with the chieftains in our portion, arrows mentioned in our sources have, of course, nothing to do with Native American stereotypes. Sometimes an arrow is just an arrow.

And sometimes it is not. Among the many arrowheads archaeologists have unearthed in Israel, the one pictured here might be the most historically and emotionally significant. It was found in a Jerusalem home in the the upper city, just across from the ancient temple. An aristocratic Jewish family lived there at the time of the Roman destruction in the year 70 CE. It’s known as the Burnt House because it was destroyed at the same time the temple was burning. This spear was found just beyond the reach of a skeletal hand – the hand of a woman who might have reaching for a weapon that would allow her to defend herself. But all was lost. The Romans, whose symbol was the eagle, vanquished our people using those weapons of choice, spears and arrows. Without protection under God’s wing, the woman was unable to fend off those arrows – and protect her loved ones.

Eagles can be divine messengers of courage and resilience or symbols of an evil empire. We’ve seen both throughout history. Ben Franklin had no great love for the eagle (he preferred the turkey as our national symbol), calling it “a bird of bad moral character” that “does not get his living honestly” because it steals food from the fishing hawk and is “too lazy to fish for himself.”

Yes, fish gotta swim… but birds gotta fly!

I’ve seen enough. Eagles will fly to victory by a field goal.

And maybe then we’ll exchange that annoying Tomahawk Chop for some good old fashioned Philadelphia razzing.

About the Author
Award-winning journalist, father, husband, son, friend, poodle-owner, Red Sox fan and rabbi of Temple Beth El in Stamford, CT. Author of Mensch-Marks: Life Lessons of a Human Rabbi – Wisdom for Untethered Times and "Embracing Auschwitz: Forging a Vibrant, Life-Affirming Judaism that Takes the Holocaust Seriously." His Substack column, One One Foot: A Rabbi's Journal, can be found at https://rabbijoshuahammerman.substack.com/ Rabbi Hammerman was a winner of the Simon Rockower award, the highest honor in Jewish journalism, for his 2008 columns on the Bernard Madoff case, which appeared first on his blog and then were discussed widely in the media. In 2019, he received first-prize from the Religion News Association, for excellence in commentary. Among his many published personal essays are several written for the New York Times Magazine and Washington Post. He has been featured as About.com's Conservative representative in its "Ask the Rabbi" series and as "The Jewish Ethicist," fielding questions on the New York Jewish Week's website. Rabbi Hammerman is an avid fan of the Red Sox, Patriots and all things Boston; he also loves a good, Israeli hummus. He is an active alum of Brown University, often conducting alumni interviews of prospective students. He lives in Stamford with his wife, Dr. Mara Hammerman, a psychologist. They have two grown children, Ethan and Daniel, along with Cobie, Casey and Cassidy, three standard poodles. Contact Rabbi Hammerman: rabbi@tbe.org (203) 322-6901 x 307
Related Topics
Related Posts