Rabbinic Reflections: Praying for Victory

What makes a good prayer for the Eagles to win Superbowl LVII? Five years ago, I was lucky, and this reflection was due for publication after they won. I got to write about how to express gratitude. I have no recollection of the prayers before that game. So, I too, am faced with the question: What would make a good prayer for an Eagles victory?

First, Judaism is pretty clear about what does not work. In fact, the daily Talmud study sequence is in the middle of two tractates where the rabbis do everything they can do to undo and prevent vows. The short version: don’t bet God anything.

God is not a vending machine where you can put the right words or action or promise in some divine receptacle in exchange for a touchdown, a first down, or anything. God gives (even if one doesn’t believe in the Divine), and God cares not because of what you do in exchange but because God is God. Not for nothing, God cares about Chiefs fans, too, so don’t compete for God’s infinite love when that love is big enough for everyone.

That being said, Jewish tradition clearly understands the emotions, feelings, and desires that lead us to want to make a deal. Biblical text is filled with pathos and prayer, especially the Book of Psalms. What can we learn from that?

Prayer works best as an internally responsive exercise. The Hebrew word for “to pray” is l’hitpalel, literally meaning “to self-assess.” Prayer can be the perfect opportunity to articulate our feelings, to say what we want and why, and to examine what that is all about. For example, I want the Eagles to win. I feel they are the best team having the best season. It matters to me that the Eagles get credit for everything that got them here. And so on. Saying all that, I realize I want some of that for myself, too, maybe for all of us, for Philly. Acknowledging that piece can then become a prayer asking God to give us the strength to know how much we have done and the power that knowledge might give us.

One more layer, that power is not make believe. A Hebrew name for “soul” is neshama, also meaning “breath.” The English word “inspiration” is rooted in “spirit.” Our very breath is spirit/soul. I believe we put all sorts of vibes into the world with our breath, yes, even when we yell at our televisions. So, I take inspiration from our Eagles for how best to channel our souls.

A good prayer is one that lifts up, it gives air to us and to those for whom we pray. The Book of Exodus may teach us to appoint chiefs (18:21) to have a functional society, and it also tells us several verses later that God bore us on eagles’ wings to bring us to God (19:4). If we seek something special, something beyond ourselves, we can give air to thoughts and feelings that raise us up (without knocking others down). If we want to soar, we can pray for flight. And, if prayer isn’t your thing, sing the Eagles’ fight song. Go, Birds!!

About Rabbi Jeremy Winaker

Rabbi Jeremy Winaker is the executive director of the Greater Philadelphia Hillel Network, responsible for West Chester University, Haverford, Bryn Mawr, and other area colleges. He is the former head of school at the Albert Einstein Academy in Wilmington and was the senior Jewish educator at the Kristol Hillel Center at the University of Delaware for four years. Rabbi Winaker lives in Delaware with his wife and three children.



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