When the Rams defeated the Philadelphia Eagles to get to this year's Super Bowl, Warner's first words in his post-game interview was, "All the glory belongs to G-d, not to us." Similarly, many people will remember his speech after Super Bowl XXXIV, in which he thanked Jesus and the glory of G-d for his victory, significantly downplaying his own role. It's not at all uncommon to watch Warner huddle up his players before and after nearly every game to offer a prayer of thanks to G-d before they rush off into the splendor of the stadium lights.
All of this might lead us to believe that G-d was on Warner's side in Super Bowl XXXVI. Indeed, as Warner was introduced to the awaiting throng in the New Orleans Super Dome, he seemed oblivious to the spectacle of his name being announced. He lifted his eyes heavenward, spending his last moment before the game in prayer to G-d. But for their introduction, the New England Patriots did something that seems to have moved G-d irrevocably to their own side, upending Warner's plans. They broke with a long-standing Super Bowl tradition to forego individual announcements of their starting players. Instead, they came out of the tunnel onto the field as a team.
To be sure, the Patriots didn't conspicuously offer any public prayers to G-d before the big game. And G-d's name was noticeably absent from the Patriots victory speeches, with the exception of owner Robert Kraft's emphasis on the importance of spirituality in the life of the nation as he accepted the Vince Lombardi Trophy. (Mr. Kraft, as everyone knows, is a committed Jewish philanthropist). Yet the Patriots won the game, a possible indication that indeed G-d has moved northward and embraced the anonymous yet unified mass of Patriot players.
According to the rabbis of the Talmud, in the age of King Saul, the first Jewish monarch, the Jews achieved such a phenomenal level of righteousness that even small children were conversant in the entire Torah. Yet nearly all of Saul's military campaigns met with defeat, and the king himself was mortally wounded in battle after being trounced by the Philistines. The reason: The Jewish people had terrible divisions between them, with much political infighting. As a result, G-d abandoned their armies.
By contrast, one of the wickedest and most idolatrous of all the Jewish kings, the infamous Ahab and his pagan wife, the wicked Jezebel, killed hundreds of G-d's authentic prophets and led the Jewish people down a moral cesspool. Amazingly, Ahab was largely victorious. As king, he defeated his enemies time and again in battle. The reason: The Jews in his day were united as one body and as one heart. And what G-d desires above all else is unity.
The same message is made abundantly clear by the Talmud in its statement that the second Temple was destroyed, not by the might of Rome, but by Jewish internal division. The patriotic forces of Yochanan of Gush Chalav clashed repeatedly with their fellow Jews under the leadership of Shimon Bar Giora, and vice versa. Titus, under the guidance of the Jewish commander-turned-traitor Flavius Josephus, took advantage of the Jewish divisions and marched into Jerusalem after the defenders had largely slaughtered each other.
Countless other Talmud passages echo the same sentiment, such as, "The Divine Presence does not rest other than upon a community." Then there is Rabbi Akiva's famous statement in the Jerusalem Talmud that "love of your fellow man is the great principle of the Torah." (Nedarim 9:4) The Midrash even goes so far as to say, in G-d's name, that "so great is peace, even if people worship idols, yet there is peace between them, it were as if I cannot pass judgment against them." (Bereshit Rabbah, 38:10, Yalkut Shimoni, Hosea)
This is a lesson that the Jewish people would do well to re-instill in their hearts in their current struggle for the continued existence of their homeland, a battle, of course, infinitely more important than any football game. Rather than our rabbis exhorting us merely to re-embrace Jewish heritage and traditional study, which has become the battle cry of the modern Jewish renaissance, they should be inspiring us to recapture that unbreakable sense of unity that kept us together as a nation through two thousand years of exile.
Whether a Jew is part of the Israeli right or the left, whether he or she is Orthodox or Reform, disagreements must be voiced within the overall framework of communal harmony and unconditional love for one another. For unity is more important than righteousness, and love of our fellow man is even superior to love of G-d. G-d cherishes His children more than He cherishes Himself. He will therefore judge us first and foremost by how sensitively we treat each other, rather than by how orthodox or righteous we are.
As the ancient rabbis said: "When are the Jewish People standing? When they are together. Even a young child can break a single reed. But a bunch of reeds together is strong and cannot be broken. The Jewish People will not be redeemed until they are a unified group." (Midrash, Yalkut Shimoni)
When Abraham was famously about to sacrifice his son Isaac on Mt. Moriah at G-d's command, G-d instructed him at the very last moment to substitute a ram for the youth. If it took the downfall of a mighty team with a righteous and superb leader to teach us the value of unity over righteousness, it will be a sacrifice well worth the price.