This Sunday, an epic battle will take place when the New York Giants meet the New England Patriots in Indianapolis in Super Bowl XLVI, American football's annual championship game.
Each year, there is an inescapable buzz leading up to the event, as countless fans gear up for the drama on the field.
To get a sense of just how compelling the Super Bowl is in American pop culture, consider the following: last year's game was the most-watched television program in the country's history, reportedly drawing an audience that averaged 111 million people. That means that one out of every three American men, women and children tuned in at some point.
As a result, advertisers are prepared to fork over huge sums to hawk their products, with a 30-second spot on this year's broadcast costing a record $3.5 million, or more than $110,000 per second.
Even from thousands of miles away, here in Israel, there is a palpable sense of excitement among US immigrants, with many planning to stay up into the wee hours of the night to follow the action as it unfolds.
This year's contest is a rematch of Super Bowl XLII, which took place on February 3, 2008, when the Giants came from behind to defeat the heavilyfavored Patriots with a dramatic drive down the field with just two minutes and 39 seconds remaining.
I attended that memorable game, which was held in Glendale, Arizona, together with my brother John, and I will forever remember the tension, the elation and the sheer electricity that surged through the crowd. It was a festival of escapist delight, at least for those of us rooting for the Giants, one that brought into sharp relief the extent to which sports can evoke absolute amusement and unbounded passion.
With so many investing so much in this sporting event, an interesting philosophical and theological question comes to mind: does the Creator care about the Super Bowl? Does He take an interest in who wins?
At first glance, the question might sound silly. After all, in a world replete with hunger, poverty and disease, not to mention war and displacement, one could argue that God has more pressing matters to deal with than a bunch of grown men tossing around a ball and tackling each other.
Hall of Fame quarterback Fran Tarkenton made precisely this point in an article in The Wall Street Journal last month when he wrote, "As a player, though, I never understood why God would care who won a game between my team and another. It seemed like there were many far more important things going on in the world."
And yet, as persuasive as this logic might appear to be, I find it to be utterly wrong and even sacrilegious. To begin with, it implies that God has to focus on the "far more important things" while putting aside more mundane pursuits. But God is the ultimate multi-tasker. He is not bound by man's limitations, which require us to concentrate on some things while overlooking others. He has the ability to contemplate everything and anything simultaneously, however difficult to grasp this concept might be to us.
Moreover, Jewish tradition tells us that the Deity is not a passive observer of our world. He is active and involved in our lives, both as individuals and as nations (and yes, also as teams). This fundamental belief was articulated by Rambam (Maimonides), in the Thirteen Principles of Faith, the first of which says, "I believe with perfect faith that the Creator, blessed be His Name, is the Creator and Guide of all that has been created."
Note the Rambam's use of the word "Guide," which clearly suggests dynamic participation and interest. God's providence is neither limited nor partial, and to suggest otherwise is basically profane. The great Rabbi Yerucham Levovitz of pre-war Poland's Mir yeshiva highlighted this idea when he expounded on the opening verse of the Torah.
He said that when one contemplates the words "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth," it leads to an awareness and realization that the world and everything in it does have meaning and purpose. Indeed, who are we to say that an event that brings joy to hundreds of millions of God's creations, one which creates jobs and provides people with livelihoods, is of no ultimate consequence or importance?
So yes, I firmly believe that God does care about the Super Bowl. He cares about everyone and everything on this planet, even if at times it is hard for us to understand why things happen the way they do. And just as a father takes pleasure in watching his children play, I'd like to believe that our Father in Heaven will also take delight in this Sunday's drama on the field.
Let's go Giants!!