I have no idea how many rabbis devoted their sermons last week to the Super Bowl. Nor do I care. For me, and hopefully, for all Jews, the Super Bowl has nothing to do with 100 million Americans glued to the television set, nor does it involve companies prepared to shell out 5 million dollars for a 30-second commercial being aired at the same time when many viewers in all likelihood, have momentarily absented themselves from the television set, because they are heading to another room of the house, either to satiate their needs or to tend to their needs.

Long before the first Super Bowl took place long on January 15, 1967, there were three other Super Bowls that were in no way connected to Football. While I am not able to provide the exact date, I can tell you what took place at the first of these three Super Bowls: There were two brothers in that first Super Bowl. As a matter of fact, those two brothers were fraternal twins. Even though neither brother had ever seen a football before, that first Super Bowl had all the makings of a competition. It centered itself around a bowl of lentil stew. One brother had prepared the stew and was just about to pour it in a bowl when the other brother walked into the kitchen totally famished. He had spent the entire day in the field hunting.  “Fork over some of those vittles”, demanded the hunter. “I’m starving.” “Be happy to,” answered the other brother. “But it will cost you your birthright.” Without the least bit of hesitation and totally without a word of remonstration, the hunter went and exchanged his birthright for a bowl of lentils. Unlike the Super Bowl of today, there were no winners. That first Super Bowl produced only losers. In addition to giving up his birthright, the hunter lost his self-respect; in addition to acquiring a birthright, the other brother lost his integrity.

The world would have to wait a few centuries until the second Super Bowl. Here too, I am not able to provide the exact date, but in addition to telling you what took place, I can also tell you where it took place. The second Super Bowl did not involve lentil stew or any other food. The second Super Bowl involved sparkling jewels and glowing coals. It took place at a royal palace in Egypt. In that second Super Bowl, there were also only two players: The Pharaoh himself and his adopted toddler son whom we know as Moses. It turns out, however, that the Pharaoh was no match for the toddler. As paranoid as the day is long, the Pharaoh feared that the day would come when he would meet his downfall at the hands of the toddler. After all, the toddler had just raised his little arms and removed the crown from Pharaoh’s head and placed it on his own head. Surely, a sign and portent were to be found in what had just occurred. At the suggestion of one of Pharaoh’s three advisors present, who was adamant in rescuing the toddler from certain death, a test was hastily arranged and two bowls – one filled with sparkling jewels and the other filled with glowing coals – were set before the toddler. That second Super Bowl produced two winners, one immediate and the other ultimate. True, Pharaoh walked away with a big smile and put his paranoia on hold, but it was the tongue torched toddler who would one day bring down Pharaoh and his country, as he led his people from slavery to freedom.

The third Super Bowl took place in this country during the summer of 1959. Ten-year-old Benny Shapiro entered a non-descript Drug Store on Delancey Street on New York’s Lower East Side, walked up to the soda fountain at the back of the pharmacy, and climbed up onto a stool. He caught the attention of the waitress and asked: “How much is a sundae?”  “Thirty-cents,” answered the waitress. Benny reached into his pocket and began to count the coins. The waitress was impatient. There were other customers to be served. Benny looked up at the waitress. “How much is a bowl of plain vanilla ice cream?” asked Benny. “Twenty cents,” answered the waitress with more than a hint of irritation in her voice. Again, Benny counted the coins. Finally, Benny said: “I’ll have a bowl of plain ice-cream.” Benny put a dime and two nickels on the table. The waitress took the money, brought the bowl of ice cream and walked away. Fifteen minutes later, the waitress returned. The bowl was empty. Benny was gone. The waitress picked up the empty bowl and began to cry. There, next to the wet spot on the counter where the bowl had been, was a nickel and five pennies. Benny did have enough money for a sundae all along, but he ordered a bowl of plain ice cream instead so that he could leave the waitress a tip. Unlike, the previous two Super Bowls, both the waitress and Benny were winners – the waitress for being the recipient of the thoughtfulness of a ten-year-old boy, and Benny for being such a mentsch.

Yasher Koach to the Kansas City Chiefs, the winners of this year’s Super Bowl. When all is said and done, however, the three Super Bowls of this article, and not any of the previous 53 televised Super Bowls are the ones worth remembering.

Super Bowl

It should come as no surprise to you that I’ve never watched the Super Bowl. It should also come as no surprise to you, that never having participated in the annual ritual in no way prevents me from commenting on it. As one steeped in the history and culture of our people, I find that the astronomical amount of money that changes hands each year when the Super Bowl comes around is nothing short of incredulous, especially since the very first “super bowl” dates back to biblical times, literally cost beans, had no viewership whatsoever, involved only (fraternal) twins and left a bitter taste in the mouth of the… reader.
I also find that there are at least three lessons that can be learned from the Super Bowl as we know it, that speaks to us as Jews:
No different than the way many Jews respond to Jewish holidays, the Super Bowl reminds us that to a great extent, culture determines the behavior of many Americans who seldom watch a football game on television. Yet, beginning at 5 p.m. this past Sunday, these same people with their typical tepid interest in the game were sure to tune in to at least some of the four hour event.
Had you asked them, why the sudden interest, either real or feigned, chances are that they answered: Because it’s the Super Bowl! Implicit in their astonishment of how one could even pose such a question was: this is what Americans do. And how can anyone not participating in this annual event say that he is “proud” to be an American?
The Super Bowl reminds us that food is a vital component of the annual event. The amount of beer and beverages that are consumed, the amount of Hero, Hoagie or Submarine sandwiches (depending on which part of this country you live) eaten, as well as the amount of munchies that are munched, is mind boggling. Then again, one would be hard pressed to envision a Rosh Hashanah without its pre requisite dinners and lunches, where invitations are aplenty; one would be hard-pressed to imagine Yom Kippur without the fuss made over the meal before the Fast as well as the Break Fast, where it is not unusual to pull out all the stops when it comes to variety as well as the quantity of food. It might very well be that that our appetite for food has given new meaning to the Days of Awe, in that one could easily stand in awe watching us tend to our kishkes, when our focus ought to really be on our souls! It’s with good reason that several years back, someone came up with a new set of four questions that define the Pesach seder: When do we eat? When do we eat? When do we eat? When do we eat?
It’s been a century since the term “over the top” was first introduced into the English language. In far more recent years, the term over the top has come to be identified with the commercials that are now very much part of the Super Bowl, with the expectations on the part of the viewing public that advertisers outdo themselves at each and every successive Super Bowl.
A few years ago, the Chicago Loop Synagogue had Dudu Fisher of Broadway (Cats) fame serve as Cantor for the High Holy Days. In speaking with my cousin who made a special effort to “daven with Dudu”, I heard how those in attendance were brought to tears when Dudu Fisher offered up the Memorial prayer for fallen Israeli soldiers. Meaning no disrespect to Dudu Fisher, I have always hoped that those in attendance at the Chicago Loop Synagogue and elsewhere would have been brought to tears while reciting either the Al Het or the Ashamnu Confessional. Similarly, I shed many a tear from within, each time I hear of how the Rabbi’s sermon was “over the top” or how the Rabbi “hit it out of the Ball Park”. Shouldn’t the focus of the High Holy Days be how the congregant was moved by or really got into a specific prayer or the very service itself?
I am neither a prophet nor the son of a prophet. Nevertheless I feel safe in saying that the High Holy Days as well as all other Jewish holidays will be around long after the Super Bowl becomes history. I look forward to the time when our holidays are not impacted upon by our culture and that the meal menu takes on a venue which is at best secondary to the spiritual component. The true holiday food given Jewish belief and practice ought to be “food for thought”.
Most important of all, I hope and pray with all my heart that “over the top” and “hitting it out of the ball park” will be reactions on the part of HaShem looking down in awe at the impact the holidays had on us. Only then will it be a true Super Bowl with everyone being a winner!