It has not been a good week for horses. We just commemorated the third yahrzeit of Barbaro, of blessed memory, and on Feb. 6, 1966, Mr. Ed was cancelled.
Sad as those commemorations are, however, they pale in comparison to a far-worse event in equine history commemorated last Shabbat. We chanted the triumphant Song of the Sea – triumphant for Israelites, but not good for horses. “Ashira L’Adonai Ki Gaoh Ga’ah,” it begins, “(“I will sing to Adonai, who has triumphed gloriously,” “Soos v’rochvo ramah va’yam” (“Horse and driver have been hurled into the Sea”). Considering the fact that the Atlantic Ocean will be within sniffing distance of the game in southern Florida this Sunday, it is tempting to toss in all the cards at this point and proclaim that the Saints will win in a rout and the Colts will sink.
Add to that the fact that the great miracle of the see was precipitated with a massive gust of wind – or, in other words, a breeze – as in Drew Brees, the Saints’ quarterback.
But, while last week’s portion is screaming “Brees,” my head says “Colts,” so I’ve got to play this out.
After all, the Colts were incredibly impressive in their second half comeback over the Jets two weeks ago; and only the Colts have a player whose name is also a Passover song (Addai-aynu). But it is a group of Jewish Saints fans, the “Jews for Breesus,” who have made a Super Bowl version of Dayenu. There are, to my knowledge, no Jews currently on the roster of either team, but interestingly, there was one tight end, Scott Slutzker who briefly played for both. Colts owner Jim Irsay, raised as a Catholic, has spoken publicly about his family’s Jewish origins.
So a more comprehensive investigation is in order:
Yes, on the surface, the word “saints” is hardly a Jewish term. But neither is it exclusively Christian. For instance, there are Hindu saints. In his book, Making Saints: How the Catholic Church Determines Who Becomes a Saint, Who Doesn't and Why, author Kenneth Woodward notes the following: A saint is always someone through whom we catch a glimpse of what God is like -- and of what we are called to be. I can think of many Jews like that. The Jewish equivalent term would be “Tzaddik” or “Hasid.” Jews often make pilgrimage to the tombs of saintly rabbis, especially in Israel, Eastern Europe and the Middle East. We remember our saints especially on the anniversary of their deaths, their yahrzeits. This weekend, Shevat 22- 23, we commemorate the yahrzeit of Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk, the Kotzker Rebbe, a great 19th century Hasidic leader, who said, “Human beings can only be searchers for truth. And as they seek the nearness of God, they must be forever on guard, lest pride or egocentricity pervert the purity of their quest."
I think Vince Lombardi once said the same thing:
“Mental toughness is many things. It is humility because it behooves all of us to remember that simplicity is the sign of greatness and meekness is the sign of true strength. Mental toughness is spartanism with qualities of sacrifice, self-denial, dedication. It is fearlessness, and it is love.”
By the way, on Feb. 7, many noteworthy events happened in Jewish history (including the birth of my son Ethan), among them the beginning of the armed struggle in the Warsaw Ghetto in 1943 and the opening of Mel Brooks’ classic comedy, “Blazing Saddles.” Please note which animal takes it on the chin in one of that film’s most famous bits.
It’s noteworthy that there are many more Jews considered tzaddikim than are named “Soos (Horse)” (Doctor Seuss notwithstanding). Jewish folklore speaks of 36 anonymous Tzaddikim whose spiritual fortitude sustains the world for their generation. They are better known as the Lamed Vav, the Hebrew letters whose numerical equivalent adds up to 36. There is dispute in the sources as to where the number comes from. But these hidden saints play a huge role in Jewish folklore.
So I think I’m on solid Jewish ground in stating that the Saints will score somewhere in the neighborhood of 36 points this Sunday. The question is, will the Colts score more?
There IS one biblical character (Numbers 13) whose last name is “Soosi.” The root meaning of “soos,” incidentally, is “swift,” which pretty much describes the Colts, both offensively and defensively. They are built for speed.
According to an online concordance, the word “horse” (soos) appears 283 times in the Hebrew Bible. With the land Israel being so mountainous, horses were not as useful as mules and oxen and therefore not as plentiful as they were in flatter places, like Egypt and Arabia. On the plain, horses and chariots were formidable, but you can ask the Canaanite general Sisera how things went once it got hilly and wet. We read about it in last week’s haftarah. Or ask Pharaoh. Bottom line – a wet, muddy field favors the Saints.
Typically, horses are seen as instruments of war, typically employed by the enemies of Israel (see Deut.20 - When you go out to battle against your enemies and see horses and chariots and people more numerous than you, do not be afraid of them; for the LORD your God, who brought you up from the land of Egypt, is with you ) . Despite their threatening status (and how often in history have Jews been chased down by the horses of Cossacks, Roman soldiers and Crusaders), they are also admired, especially for their speed – see Isaiah 30:16. Clearly, the biblical authors were aware of the Colts’ lightning fast attack. Horses are also symbols of dignity and honor (Esther 6:11). Think of that scene in the book of Esther when Mordechai, not Haman, got to ride through town on horseback – one of those great “gotcha” moments in Jewish history. But a horse is also a symbol of vanity and false hopes. Psalm 33:17, is rather indicative of the Colts’ history (with the notable exception of 2006): “A horse is a false hope for victory; Nor does it deliver anyone by its great strength.” As we saw with Barbaro and Mr. Ed, a horse’s majesty also carries a deep fragility. This is expressed in this verse from Judges 5:22.
This week the Israelites return to Mount Sinai, home of the Decalogue but, more the point of this game, the burning Bush. But while Reggie Bush might be burning up the turf with his kick returns, we must also note that the Hebrew term “bush” means “embarrassment” and “shame.” We just don’t know which team he’ll shame: the Colts, or his own. There is no Jewish source, BTW, that speaks at all about Bush’s oft-photographed girlfriend, Kim Kardashian.
I can envision the end of the game clearly. The Hebrew word Peyton (“pie-tan”) means “poet,” or the composer of a prayer (a piyyut). So Manning will throw up a prayer in the game’s final seconds, a “hail Mary,” as it were, but it will fall incomplete.
Jeremiah 31 speaks of an apocalyptic theme: "And the entire valley of the corpses, and of the ashes, and all the fields as far as the stream of Kidron, to the corner of the Horses' Gate toward the east, shall be holy to the Lord; it shall not be uprooted and it shall not be demolished again forever."
The Colts will be back – and may not be demolished next time, but this time, the Horses will fall.
So while my head says Colts, Jewish tradition leans toward a score reflecting the spiritual power of the Lamed Vavniks and the devastation of that chapter of Jeremiah:
Saints 36 – Colts 31.
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