Thursday, February 3, 2011

Annual Super Bowl Prediction: Packers vs. Steelers

It’s not easy for me to make a prediction after the Patriots' disappointing finish. But since I’ve almost always been right (my personal favorite being Pats-Rams in 2002), I must meet the challenge. So who will it be: Steelers or Packers?

Scanning for clues: How about the Ten Commandments? “Thou shalt not steel…” seems to be imploring me to lean Green Bay’s way. On the other hand, the final commandment tells us not to be green with envy.

There is to my knowledge no “packer” in the Bible, though Jews are perpetually packing their bags as they head off to one exile or another. But the word "green" appears dozens of times, at least 40 by my count, almost always in reference to growth in nature (along with the occasional mildew or sacrificial blemish). The Hebrew word "yarok" (the color green) also means vegetable, has connotations of paleness, and in verb form it means to expectorate. So one could call this a game between Pittsburgh and Spitsburgh. But it doesn't tell us who is going to win.

Of course, it is worth mentioning that there are many Jews with the last name Green, but far more with a name ending with "berg" (though admittedly, few ending with "burgh"). Point for Pittsburgh... except that both teams include gold as one of their colors, so the Goldberg connection can cut both ways. And when you throw in "Greenberg," we seem to leaning toward Packer colors on the Jewish spectrum. No "Blackbergs" that I know of, though I know at least two Jews with the last name "Black."

The modern Hebrew word for steel is “peled,” from the three letter root meaning “to consume in flames,” based on Nahum 2:3: “For the Lord restores the pride of Jacob... The shield of his mighty men is made red, the valiant men are in scarlet; the chariots are fire of steel in the day of his preparation, and the cypress spears are made to quiver.”

Steel, as we know it, didn’t exist in biblical times. Looking at the concordance, we find a connection to the Hebrew word for copper, nechoshet, a word familiar from the song “Jerusalem of Gold.” Think of that song… “Yerushalyim shel zahav (Gold), v’shel nechoshet v’shel ORE.” “Ore” means light, but the English transliteration of the word points to something else. To quote from the Wikipedia: Iron ore is the raw material used to make pig iron, which is one of the main raw materials to make steel.

Pig iron? Does this correspond to the football or to Steeler Hall of Fame linebacker Jack Ham?

But given the choice between that classic combo of ham and cheese, I prefer cheese. Cheese is more, well, KOSHER. A vote for the cheeseheads from Green Bay.

Except that the first mass produced items that received kosher supervision in America were, you guessed it, Heinz pickles and other products - and Heinz is of course not only from Pittsburgh, but they named the stadium after it - and their best receiver (different spelling), not to mention their KOSHER dills.

There is little kosher about the meat packed in Green Bay.

On the other hand, Wisconsin DOES have a village - and a bay - called Whitefish Bay. Sounds pretty kosher to me. And what's a bay but the first syllable of bagel?

In the Bible, the word for iron is typically barzel. The “Encyclopedia of Jewish Symbols” informs us that iron has long been seen as a powerful protector against demons. One explanation has it that the first plague on Egpyt, blood, impacted water in vessels of wood and vessels of stone, but not water found in vessels of iron. The four letters of that word also correspond to the first letters of the names of the Jacob’s four wives, Bilhah, Rachel, Zilpah and Leah. “Rock is hard,” says the Talmud (Bava Batra 10a), “but Iron cuts it.” So if we were playing “Rock, Paper , Scissors,” or if Green Bay was known for paper packers rather than meatpacking, no doubt the Steelers would win.

But while iron cuts rock, can it it cut through "Frozen Tundra?" My experience over the last few days tells me no. Nothin' cuts through this stuff. Certainly not my iron shovel.

Let's look at Jewish ownership, something covered in Tablet magazine's Super Bowl preview. The Steelers have been owned by the Rooney family since so long ago that Terry Bradshaw even had hair. Even longer! Not that there's anything wrong with Irish Catholic owners, but the Packers are owned by the entire population of Green Bay, which includes at least a minyan of Jews. We know that because there is at least one synagogue, Cnesses Israel (Conservative, no less). I understand they wear cheeseheads as yarmulkes.

But the clincher is that this week's Torah portion - and next week's as well - focuses on the role and garb of the High Priest. His name? Aaron. yes, Aaron Rodgers, the Packer quarterback, is the main topic of this week's portion. As for the Steeler QB, his name, "Ben" is actually part of EVERY male's Hebrew name - because it means "son of," and we are all the son of someone. But Ben here is actually short for Benjamin, and we haven't read about him in the Torah for quite some time.

One of the priestly garments worn by Aaron was a breast plate consisting of a dozen precious stones. Notice which color is the top row:

Exod 28:15-29:

"You shall make the breastplate of judgment. Artistically woven according to the workmanship of the ephod you shall make it: of gold, blue, purple, and scarlet thread, and fine woven linen, you shall make it. It shall be doubled into a square: a span shall be its length, and a span shall be its width. And you shall put settings of stones in it, four rows of stones: The first row shall be a sardius, a topaz, and an emerald; this shall be the first row; the second row shall be a turquoise, a sapphire, and a diamond; the third row, a jacinth, an agate, and an amethyst; and the fourth row, a beryl, an onyx, and a jasper. They shall be set in gold settings. And the stones shall have the names of the sons of Israel, twelve according to their names, like the engravings of a signet, each one with its own name; they shall be according to the twelve tribes. You shall make chains for the breastplate at the end, like braided cords of pure gold."

Aaron will be wearing jewelry of green and gold. That's what the Torah says. Who am I to argue?

The Packers will win.

…of course it must be stated that in no way do I condone gambling and past performance should not be an indicator of future results…


Peggy Kalter said...

Love reading your annual prediction! Having attended 23 Super Bowl and hanging with some folks not so unwilling to condone gambling on the game, I can tell you your method is better than most! Will enjoy watching to see if you have picked another winner!

Anonymous said...

Sorry Rabbi, but can you remind me about which team you picked in the Patriots unbeaten season when they went up against the lowly 6th seed NY Giants?

Rabbi Shaina said...

I like your reasoning! Actually, a Jew, Nate Abrams, co-founded the Packers with Curly Lambeau. Ron Wolf, now-retired, is the gm that led team in nineties to superbowl win. He is a a member of our congregation. Another member is on the board of directors. Basically everyone in towns owns shares of the team, nearly all of our members are owners. Few synagogues can claim to nfl team ownership.