Each World Cup seems to feature a major star with a name resembling something biblical.
In 2006, the competition was held in Germany. The host team’s captain Michael Ballack led his team to the final.
The Germans played against Italy around the time of the reading of the Torah portion “Balak.” The portion is named after the king of the Moabites who reigned during the time that the Israelites wandered the Sinai desert. Ballack’s team, however, was left deserted of the trophy on that occasion, denied by the Italians.
In 2010, with the World Cup held in South Africa, Argentina was pinning its hopes on Lionel Messi, a very similar scenario to this time round. The Torah portion read during the week of that World Cup final match was “Massei,” meaning “journeys.” The similarity between the names Messi and the Torah portion was rather intriguing.
Nonetheless, even Messi, who already then was considered the world’s top footballer, could not help his team make the journey to the final. The Argentinians were soundly beaten 4-0 in the quarterfinals by Germany, which then bowed out to eventual champion Spain in a thrilling semifinal encounter.
At the beginning of this year’s 2014 World Cup, many were asking whether Neymar, the rising star of global football, would inspire the Brazilian host nation to World Cup glory.
Up until the 88th minute of Brazil’s quarterfinal match against Colombia, Neymar had already scored four goals in the tournament and was certainly looking the part. But for Neymar, it was not to be.
Tonight, Brazil takes on the mighty Germans in the first of the two World Cup semifinal games. However Brazil’s star player, sadly for him, will have no say in the match.
The ill-fated foul inflicted by Colombia’s Juan Camilo Zuniga on the Brazilian striker late in the quarterfinal clash brought a devastating and tragic end to the 22-year-old’s 2014 World Cup dream.
Soon after this World Cup-defining moment, while reciting the first word of the final line of “Aleinu,” the concluding prayer of each of the three services, (Shacharit, Mincha and Ma’ariv), my ears suddenly popped up. I heard myself saying “Neymar.”
The actual line reads: “Ve’neyemar vehaya Adonai Hamelech al kol ha’aretz, beyom hahoo, yehiyeh Adonai Echad ushemo Echad”.
“And it is said Hashem will be king over all the world – On that day Hashem will be One and His name will be One”.
The moment I recognized the similarity between Neymar and “veNeyemar,” I could not help draw a parallel between the words: “King over all the world” and the superhero’s lost dream of being crowned king of the World Cup.
After uttering the final “Aleinu” words of that Shacharit service, I recalled the particularistic and universalistic themes within the prayer regarding the praising of Hashem.
The first paragraph calls for a specifically Jewish obligation to praise G-d: “It is our duty to praise the Master of all…” The second paragraph calls for universal recognition of G-d by all people: “And all people will call upon your name…” In many of the South American countries in particular, soccer is seen as a religion to many.
A fascinating feature of this World Cup has been the video cameras homing in on players and fans alike, desperately pleading to G-d, especially during those games decided on penalties, expressing the passion, devotion and desperation surrounding the game and its outcome.
With the desperate pleas coming equally from both teams, many may wonder what the Almighty does when confronted with such a situation.
Are they praying to the same entity, one may also ask? After each of Neymar’s four World Cup goals he himself pointed to the heavens, giving thanks to the Lord. Since his recent injury, many cynics have questioned whether Neymar has also attributed that fateful blow to his back to G-d.
On Sunday, the day of the World Cup final, the Jewish people usher in the reading of the Torah portion “Mattot” (Tribes), the opening line of which reads, “Moses spoke to the heads of the tribes of the children of Israel.”
On that Sunday it will be decided which of the World Cup tribes will be deemed victorious and who will ultimately be crowned as the new king of soccer.
Will it be Argentina’s Leo Messi? Could it be the brilliant Dutchman Robben? Will Thomas Muller or record-equaling goalscorer Miroslav Klose help the Germans finally prevail? Or will the Brazilians crown Neymar even in his absence? Whoever it may be, another World Cup will be over and the world will wait patiently for the crowning of the new 2018 World Cup king.
Whatever the conclusion to this year’s tournament may be, the Jewish people will continue to conclude each of their three daily services with the words: “And the Lord shall be king over all the earth, in that day there shall be one Lord, with one name.” (Zecharia: 14:9) May the best team win.