Lionel Messi, considered the world’s most talented contemporary footballer, and currently playing for Argentina in the World Cup in South Africa, celebrates his 23rd birthday on Thursday, June 24.

Messi, the 2009 FIFA Footballer of the Year, has already enjoyed a career so impressive, it is hard to believe that he is so young.

Well before the World Cup, his name adorned the newspapers worldwide, generating punning headlines such as “Messi Messiah” and “Messi mesmerizes.” His life and skills have been analyzed, compared, contrasted, you name it.

Given the current popularity of Kabbala, it is a wonder that we haven’t seen articles looking at Messi from this perspective...

until now.

According to Kabbala, our Hebrew date of birth impacts significantly on our lives and our destiny. Messi was born at 8:20 p.m. on June 24, 1987, which means that his Hebrew date of birth is Sivan 28, 5747.

The number 28, kaf-het, spells the Hebrew word koah, power, which anybody who has watched Messi will have witnessed in his play. But will Messi and his teammates have the power to reach the World Cup final, on Sunday July 11? The week leading up to the final culminates on Shabbat, July 10, when the Jewish people read a double portion from the Torah, Matot-Massei. The name Massei – journeys – bears a striking resemblance to the name Messi, and includes each of the three Hebrew letters (mem, samech and yud) which make up Messi’s name.

Massei also includes a fourth letter, ayin – Hebrew for eye – which would suggest we look more carefully at this letter and what it implies. In kabbalistic terms, the letter ayin refers to the eye of God, which manifests itself in the world as divine providence and harmony in all the workings of nature. Divine providence is the idea, held by Judaism, Christianity and Islam alike, that nothing happens by chance, but rather, by the hand of God.

Continuing this theme, combining the names Massei and Matot certainly provides a fitting reading in the buildup to the World Cup final – the culmination of the “journeys” of many “tribes” to their final destination.

Is it Messi and his tribe who will end the journey victorious? Diego Maradona, the Argentina coach and arguably the best footballer of all time, named Messi as his successor by giving him the national team’s coveted No. 10 jersey when he took over the team in 2007.

“He called me to one side in training and said he’d decided that I should be the one to wear it,” Messi later recalled. “For me it’s wonderful, given all the history that’s been associated with it.”

The parallels between the two men don’t end there.

Maradona scored many memorable goals in his career, including two that stand out, against England, in the 1986 World Cup in Mexico. (Maradona’s Argentina had visited Israel and prayed at the Western Wall ahead of that tournament, which it won, and did so again ahead of the 1990 tournament, in which it was beaten in the finals.) The second of the two 1986 goals, voted by FIFA in 2002 as the goal of the century, saw Maradona run from inside his own half and slalom his way through a series of tackles before beating the England goalkeeper.

Earlier in the game, he had scored the notorious “hand of God” goal – seemingly with his head, but in fact with a thrust of his hand.

Messi’s achievements, remarkably, include two goals almost identical to that pair, scored in the 2006-2007 season.

If we look closely at Messi’s name spelt in Hebrew, it can also be read as an abbreviated form of mispar yud – number 10. Yud is the 10th letter of the Hebrew alphabet and has the numerical value of 10 both in gematria (kabbalistic numerology) and in everyday life. Tenth grade, for example, in Hebrew, is Kita Yud. The letter yud in Kabbala refers to yad, meaning “hand” or “to thrust.”

Does the number 10, on the jersey worn by both Maradona and Messi, two of the greatest footballers the world has known, constitute an act of divine providence, the hand of God? In Judaism, the number 10 is primarily associated with the Ten Commandments given by God at Mount Sinai. The Torah actually states: “The tenth shall be holy for us.”

The yud, being the smallest of the 22 letters, represents “the little that holds much.”

Given the small physical size of Maradona and Messi, and their enormous football ability, the association with the yud is appropriate, indeed.

Which brings us to another legendary number 10.

The word ot in Hebrew means letter, sign or wonder.

Another word for wonder in Hebrew is pele. Pele, of course, is the name of the brilliant Brazilian footballer who played from 1956 to 1977 – the greatest player of his generation and also arguably of all time. Pele also wore the number 10 shirt.

In Sefer Yetzira, The Book of Creation, the Hebrew letters are called the 22 letters of foundation. According to Kabbala, the world was created by the energy of these letters.

The fact that on Tuesday, June 22, Messi will play his last game as a 22-year-old, in Argentina’s match against Greece, on a pitch with 22 footballers, provides us with a wonderful opportunity to look more carefully at the power and energy of these 22 Hebrew letters in his context.

Messi’s parents were born in Argentina, but he is of Italian ancestry. Angelo Messi came to Argentina in 1887 from Ancona, Italy. The name Messi in Italian means months. According to the Hebrew calendar, the Cup final will take place on Rosh Hodesh, the first day of the month of Av.

The symbol of the month of Av, according to Kabbala and related to the Zodiac, is the lion (Leo). Messi’s first name Lionel (Leo) is a wonderful example of a mix of two languages: Lion-el, meaning lion of God, as in Ari-el in Hebrew. Another meaning of Lionel is small lion.

Celebrating the new month was the very first commandment given to the People of Israel in the desert.

The Ten Commandments are said to contain each of the 613 commandments.

Lionel Messi, the little lion with the big roar, wearing the number 10 on his back, is not Messi the Messiah, an idea many people have played with, but rather, Messi the messenger, a man with a message from God.

The Cup final, to take place on Rosh Hodesh Av, can be seen as a reminder to us from God whether or not Messi and Argentina will be on the pitch – a reminder with universal significance.

Let’s go back, in this context, to consider again the letter ayin, which we noted earlier. The value of the ayin in gematria is 70. The 70 in Kabbala refers to the 70 descendants of Noah, representing the 70 nations and languages of the earth.

The divine reminder is that while the World Cup is a wonderful festival of different nations, languages and cultures, after which the winning team takes the trophy home, the teams and all the nations are nonetheless ultimately one.

We are all Lionel Messis, confronted by and weaving past our obstacles and challenges.

And we all have the coveted number 10 on our backs – the hand of God, the guiding light – as we make our journeys to our personal goals.

The writer, a teacher who lives in northern Israel, is a veteran immigrant from South Africa.

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