Somebody with Cross-Currents has to say something, I suppose. After a full twenty-four hours to mull over the Game of Games, I am still searching for some appropriate Torah thoughts. Mostly, I keep on thinking of the refrain from the hadran (prayer upon completion of a Talmudic tractate) – “they toil, and we toil.” I’d hate to limit it to that, because it sounds too smug and self-righteous. While I am not a follower of any professional sport, I won’t be dismissive of those who find a bit of happiness identifying with what is (most of the time) an innocuous activity.
Still…The pictures of tens of thousands of people watching a game at 4AM, the frenzied polyglot cheering around the world, left an impression. The next time someone offers you an argument based on the numbers of adherents, remember yesterday’s game. One billion people can be wrong! And those who need a reminder about just how stupid we can get in the height of passion can remember the behavior of the French superstar who left the final game of his career by being ejected for head-butting an opponent, a behavior seen as terribly objectionable and uncouth even to the unwashed masses of the soccer stadia.
The outcome probably pleased many in our community who care little about soccer, and even less for the French. Maharal offers an important principle to explain several passages in Chazal (the works of our Sages) that describe individuals in strange ways. Sometimes, as in the case of Pharoah, they are depicted as incredibly short; others are described as gigantically tall. Maharal explains that some of these passages should not be taken literally. Chazal wish to convey what certain people would look like if their physical appearance matched their inner essence.
Without really thinking that this is what actually transpired, the thought has crossed the minds of many people that the outcome of the World Cup Final gave physical expression to the performance of the two countries in World War Two. Consider the following, all verified by a Holocaust authority I spoke with:
There was more French collaborators with the Nazis than from any other occupied country. Granted, it was not the deadlier kind common in the the Baltic States and the Ukraine, with blood-thirsty partners of the Germans doing the actual killing. But Hitler could never have succeeded with the massive French deportations without lots of help from average Frenchmen rounding up Jews and helping with the logistics and infrastructure.
The Italians were not particularly good at antisemitism. It was never a major factor in society (just like Scandinavia and Serbia). The antisemitism practiced in Italy was mostly by statute, not by the actions of individual Italians to their Jewish neighbors. Italian Jews were so well integrated in Italian life, that they used to deflect the deicide charges by claiming that their ancestors were already living in Italy at the time of the crucifixion! Even the fascists in Italy did not really want to help Germans. The result was that about 85% of Italian Jews survived.
(These observations, of course, were not universally applicable. French Catholic clergy were the most likely to have risked their lives in saving Jews, and in many cases to have actually paid with their lives. They were the most critical of the Pope’s silence. And none of this is an accurate reflection on France of today, which is also complex. On the one hand, there is plenty of anti-Semitism alive there. On the other, the French government – especially Nicholas Sarkozy – has been responsive to the problem of the explosion of Muslim attacks on Jews. Alas, like the Nazi invasion, the problem has proven to be too big for France to handle.)
Looking at the record of the Shoah, though, it might be satisfying to suppose that in more ways than one, France lost on a penalty shot.