On June 21, 2006 an article I wrote entitled “A biblical boost for Argentina’s World Cup hopes?” appeared on the front page of this newspaper.

The article predicted that on the basis of Parashat Balak, the Torah portion read at the time of the World Cup final, Argentina would be victorious, winning the trophy and beating hosts Germany somewhere along the way.

In 2006, Argentina’s captain and coach were Jewish. In their blue and white outfit, they were the “Israelites at the Mondial.” The name of Germany’s captain, Michael Ballack, echoed in the Torah reading.

I wrote then: “Balak was king of the Moabites during the time that the Israelites wandered the Sinai Desert. In the Book of Numbers, Chapter 22, we read how Balak approaches the Prophet Balaam and asks him to curse the Israelites. Balaam agrees, but is thwarted by God in Chapters 23 and 24. Each time he tries to curse the Israelites, he ends up blessing them.

“How does all this point to Argentina taking the title? Doesn’t the ‘Balak’ coincidence suggest a German triumph? Not if we take note of Numbers 24:10: ‘And Balak’s anger was kindled against Balaam, and he smote his hands together; and Balak said unto Balaam: I called thee to curse mine enemies, and, behold, thou hast altogether blessed them these three times.’ From this we must surely understand that Ballack and his German squad will succumb to Israelite opponents, who will be blessed three times...”

Evidently, I got a little ahead of myself. Argentina and Germany did indeed meet in 2006, but it was the Germans who prevailed in their quarter-final encounter, before themselves going out to eventual winners Italy in the semi-finals.

Will things be different this time?

Four years later, again on June 21, my article “Lionel Messi, kabbalistic messenger?” appeared on the front page, again, of The Jerusalem Post.

This week, at the World Cup 2010 in South Africa, once again both Argentina and Germany have gone through to the last 16 stage of the competition.

On Tuesday, June 22, again in the week of Parashat Balak, Argentina received its third blessing with a 2-0 victory over Greece, and became the first team in this World Cup to win all three of its first round matches.

Michael Ballack, meanwhile, still Germany’s captain in the run-up to this World Cup, is missing the tournament, having been injured at the end of the English season while playing for his club Chelsea in the FA Cup Final – an accursed blow delivered by opponents Portsmouth, who were managed at the time by the Israeli Avram Grant.

The World Cup is now entering the cruel knock-out stage. Some countries have already been blessed with qualifying for the final 16; others, less fortunate, are heading home. Balak, with its recounting of the blessings and curses of the prophet Balaam, provides a fitting backdrop.

The Argentina captain in 2006 was the defender and number 3 Juan Sorin. As I noted then, the term for defender in Hebrew is balaam.

This year’s Argentina team features another Jewish defender, another balaam – the number 13, Walter Samuel.

Samuel was born Walter Lucano and brought up by a single Jewish mother. As a teenager, Lucano decided to adopt the family name of his stepfather, Samuel.

In Judaism, our name is considered very significant as it impacts on our mission and destiny in life. Does the fact that the Argentina defender changed his name to Samuel – the last of the Judges of the Israelites – bear special significance?

Walter Samuel recognizes himself as Jewish, but says that it does not play an important part in his life. But the number 13 he wears on his back represents the bar mitzvah age at which Jewish boys begin to take responsibility in their Jewish faith by fulfilling the commandments. It is recorded that soon after changing his name to Samuel, his professional football career improved dramatically; often, the Prophets themselves were often not aware of the prophetic nature of their words and deeds.

Samuel’s number 13 shirt also combines the No. 3 of the last World Cup’s Argentinean Jewish balaam and this World Cup’s gifted Argentinean No. 10, Messi, whose name echoes the Torah portion Massei which will be read in the week leading up to the final.

The number 13 is also a very significant and positive number in Judaism. Ballack, who has almost always worn the No. 13, might now be forgiven for considering it unlucky. But in Gematria (Kabbalah numerology) 13 can represent the word ehad – alef, het, dalet – meaning one, as in the opening line of the most famous Jewish prayer, the Shema: “Hear O Israel, the Lord is God, the Lord is One.” It can also represent the word ahava – alef, heh, bet, heh – meaning love.

Will this World Cup prove singularly positive and beloved for Argentina – with its leonine messenger leading the attack, and its Jewish balaam at lucky No. 13?

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