God, Gematria and the Super Bowl

Oasis Songs: Musings from Rav D
Friday, January 31, 2020 / 5 Shevat 5780

Summary: This week’s Oasis Songs focuses on Jewish gematria, or numerology and shows how it can be applied to urgent matters of the day to deepen our knowledge and understanding of current events and to reveal God’s presence in the unexpected.

On the global and national stage, it has been quite a week. The Trump administration released its long delayed Middle Eastern peace plan. The Senate, meanwhile, proceeded with its role in the impeachment proceedings. China was unable to perfectly quarantine the coronavirus outbreak, with cases spreading to the United Kingdom and Russia—and the United States has sequestered 200 Americans who had been in Wuhan China to an airfare base in California. I have lots of thoughts on all these matters, as I suspect you do also.

Given all of these weighty and intractable matters, it seemed appropriate that we turn our attention instead to a terrible and dreadful battle that looms before us. The stakes are existentially immense; unlike so many other crises, however, this war will be fought and peace made all in a single day. In fact, as soon as this Sunday.

This Sunday, in fact, millions of Americans will be watching Super Bowl 54. While it is true that God normally doesn’t play favorites with sports teams, this game may be the exception, as Jewish numerology, or gematria proves.

Understanding Gematria

For those unfamiliar with gematria, it is the arcane Jewish art of numerology. Each of the 22 letters in the Hebrew alphabet has a numerical value assigned to it. Thus, Aleph [א] have a value of 1, Bet [ב] has a value of two, and so on. From Yod [י] and above the numbers increase by units of ten, until we get to kaf [ק], at which point the letters are valued at 100, 200, 300 and 400. Combining letters, we use addition. Thus words all have distinct numerical values. According to this mystical and arcane discipline, any two words which share the same value have some sort of link.

Additionally, gematria can be applied not only to words, but also to numbers. Thus multiples of important numbers have consequences. And numbers can be broken into their units and added up to provide further guidance. An example of that can be found two paragraphs below.

Why God Cares

First of all, Super Bowl 54 is triple chai, or 18×3. This is highly significant, because 18 is the number for the Hebrew word “life,” and “3” is the number associated with truth, or Emet, which has 3 letters in Hebrew. All of this tells us that the game itself is triply and truly important. But does that mean that God has a favorite team in the match? Yes.

Who God is Rooting For

For this, we have to understand that in gematria, adding up the digits in a multi-digit number reveals hidden truths. If you add the 4 and the 9 of the San Francisco 49ers, you end up with 13. This is one of the most important numbers in Judaism, as many b’nei mitzvah students know. It is why all of our b’nei mitzvah candidates prepare tirelessly without any prompting from their parents, tutors or clergy.

13 is also the number of attributes that describe God’s compassion and love. We see this on the High Holidays or Festivals when we chant the 13 middot formulation [Adon-ai, Adon-ai, E-L Rachum v’Chanun…]

The final word of the Shema, or our central declaration of faith, is Echad, or one, indicating our belief in only One God. Echad has a value in Gematria of 13, emphasizing once again the connection between God and 13. Additonally, YHVH, God’s mystical four letter name, has a value of 26, or 13×2.

From all of this, we can understand that God will indeed be rooting for the 49er’s and not so much for the Kansas City Chiefs.

Should you therefore place big money on San Francisco?

I don’t think so. Even though we can see which team God prefers to win, it is unlikely that the Holy One will intervene in game play or outcomes. That would be intrinsically unfair. God is the great impartial judge, who created a world that follows natural laws and order. According to Ramban, we are supposed to achieve faith in God through mitzvot, and not through miracles. According to Ramban, miracles also don’t happen in every generation.

In sports, we don’t quite have natural law. But we do have computer simulations, and these tilt 1.5 points toward a Kansas City victory. Computers, however, are not quite the same as the laws of physics, and the game spread is close enough that it won’t take a miracle for either team to end out on top. So we will have to wait and see.

But as a man of God, I certainly intend to root for San Francisco. Anything else would be heresy…

And by the way, Superbowl Sunday is only 60 days until April Fool’s. 60 is represented by the Hebrew letter Samekh [ס], which means support. The conclusions of this week’s Oasis Song are thus fully supported by April Fool’s Day.

Finally, if you have a choice in Super Bowl snackage, guacamole is healthier than chicken wings. Of course, once you scoop it up with fried tortilla chips, all bets are off.

Shabbat shalom and may the best God’s team win,

Rav D

Shabbat Table Talk

  • What were your experiences with sports growing up? Did you play any team sports, or was that not your thing?
  • What can we learn from sports? Why do you think it captures the imagination of so many people?
  • With a dangerous sport such as football, in which many players suffer brain injuries, should society step in and outlaw the game? Why or why not?

If you’d like to continue this discussion, follow this link to CNS’s Facebook page to share your own perspectives on the topics raised in this week’s Oasis Songs. Comments will be moderated as necessary.

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