Unity at the Super Bowl
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Unity at the Super Bowl

Unity at the Super Bowl

In sports and in life, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

by Rabbi Simcha Barnett and Rabbi Eric Coopersmith

The New England Patriots victory over the highly favored St. Louis Rams in this year's Super Bowl contains a valuable lesson about the power of unity.

Throughout the entire season, the Patriots players refused to be introduced individually, as is traditionally done at the start of NFL games. Even fines from the league office could not deter their statement that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

In the process, the Patriots discovered perhaps the greatest human tool: the power of unity.

Nothing can stand in the way of a unified group. In the Torah's account of the Tower of Babel, God Himself testifies that nothing is beyond the reach of a united humanity -- even though their purpose was to rebel against God!

God even allowed the wicked king Achav to succeed -- because the people were unified.

God's only choice was to sew dissension amongst them, as it says: "Let us mix up their language, so that they can't understand each other" (Genesis 11:7). By destroying their unity, they could be defeated.

Similarly, the Torah speaks about the wicked king Achav, whose generation was steeped in idolatry. Yet God allowed them to succeed. Why? Because, explains the Talmud, the people were united in respect for one another. (Jer. Talmud - Peah 1:1)

BENCH HEROICS

It was unity that lifted the New England Patriots to the championship. Tom Brady, the 24-year-old MVP quarterback, humbly described the award as the MVT: Most Valuable Team. This "team" won the game on all sides of the ball: offense, defense, special teams -- and even those who didn't play at all.

Consider Drew Bledsoe, the all-star quarterback who sat on the bench after an early-season injury, only to re-emerge in the conference championship to lead his team into the Super Bowl. Then, in the big game, Bledsoe may have warmed the bench, but he was as integral a part of the victory. He put the team ahead of personal goals and ambitions, taking upon himself to mentor and cheerlead for his understudy-turned-starter. And in doing so, Bledsoe taught us something about greatness, integrity, and what a sports hero should really be.

Bledsoe taught us something about greatness, integrity, and what a sports hero should really be.

Is it poetic justice that this "team victory" was by a team called the "Patriots" -- at a Super Bowl featuring the theme of national unity and patriotism. And it was symbolically fitting that Paul McCartney, the British Beatle, sang his hit song "Freedom" (written in the aftermath of September 11) in a show of international solidarity with America. Perhaps Her Majesty's royal subjects and the Yankee freedom fighters had fully reconciled 200 years after the fact.

SOURCE OF JEWISH UNITY

"One people" is a perennial slogan of Jewish organizational life. What is the source of this deep-seated sense of common goal and destiny?

The Torah generally refers to the Jewish people in the plural form, but while encamped at Mount Sinai they are referred to in the singular (Exodus 19:2). The commentator Rashi explains how the entire nation encamped "with a single goal, and a singular desire." Unity was a prerequisite for receiving the Torah at Sinai.

How did the Jews achieve such unity at Sinai? When they first left Egypt, it was a difficult time. First there was no water, then no meat. The people were bickering so terribly that Moses was afraid they'd kill him!

When Amalek attacked, the outside threat awakened the Jewish people.

Then the nation Amalek came and attacked Israel. This outside threat awakened the Jewish people. Immediately after the war with Amalek, the Jews encamped at Mount Sinai -- in unity.

When we are threatened as a people, we get the message loud and clear. We know we are one. In the Six Day War, all Jews stood together. In the struggle for Soviet Jewry, all Jews rallied together. Today, every Jew feels the trauma of a terror attack in Jerusalem. When we are attacked, we become one.

PRIVATE AGENDAS

There is one other instance where the Torah refers to a nation in the singular. As the Jews left Egypt and approached the Red Sea, they looked back and saw "the Egyptians journeying (singular) after them" (Exodus 14:10). The Egyptians were united in their goal of destroying the Jewish people.

In this instance, however, unity was negative and destructive. At Sinai, unity led to world civilization. What was the difference?

In explaining to the Egyptian unity, Rashi makes a slight change. He comments that the Egyptians pursued Israel "with a singular desire, and with a single goal." When describing the unity of the Jews at Sinai, the goal came first. With the Egyptians, the primary emphasis was on personal desire.

If ego, partisanism, and private agendas are what unite a people, their unity will be short-lived and they will destroy themselves and the world. However, if a meaningful common goal is what unites them, that unity will accomplish great things for the world.

The most memorable moments in sports are those where individuals fuse into the almost mystical indivisibility of the whole.

Twice daily, Jews say the Shema prayer, proclaiming the oneness of God. We constantly remind ourselves that although our lives go in many directions, there is unity of meaning, purpose and direction in all that we do and in all that happens. Unity has an infinite source, and when we tap into it we touch God.

We may get a glimpse of this unity in the most unexpected ways -- through a symphony orchestra, the melding of Rembrandt's colors, the exquisite blend of a delicious recipe, and yes, even a Super Bowl championship.

Indeed, the most memorable moments in sports are those where the talents of individuals fuse into the almost mystical indivisibility of the whole, as the harmonious interplay leaves us awed and lifted.

The power of unity. It's a lesson imbedded in our consciousness from 3,300 years ago at Sinai. And it holds the key to success today.

Published: February 9, 2002


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Visitor Comments: 2

(2) Eddie Weinhaus, February 14, 2002 12:00 AM

Humility, Redemption and the Rams

Although the Patriots may have embodied the message of Unity this year, I expect my beloved Rams to show the power of humility and redemption with a 19-0 season and SuperBowl victory next year!!!

Eddie Weinhaus
St. Louisan

(1) Anonymous, February 12, 2002 12:00 AM

A magnificent correlation!!

What a great comparison between the super bowl champion Patriots and the way we should all act for good lives together! "Like one man with one heart", is how Jews (and the world for that matter) can find true and everlasting happiness. I'm sure that if God sees His children united for any reason He is extremely proud--like any children who gather emulate great joy for their parents.

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