The Hashgocho Protis in the naming of an American football stadium
By: D. Trenk
On August 1, 2012, the largest celebration of Jewish learning in perhaps more than two thousand years was held in of all places… a football field.
Of course, not just in any ordinary sports arena, but in a marvel of a complex built with the incredible ingenuity and sophistication of our modern age.
Completed in 2010, and at a construction cost of 1.6 billion, MetLife Stadium is the most expensive and largest stadium ever built in the history of American football. 116-foot-wide high definition video screens, thousands of plasma sets positioned throughout, and the highest quality sound system are but some examples of the impressive technology utilized in the stadium.
We must ask however, if there is some irony in rejoicing over our ancient spiritual treasure, the handbook of how to live upright lives humbly with G-d, in an arena that so loudly boasts of its own grandiosity.
As every schoolchild learns, Har Sinai was chosen just for its modest size. Yet, here we find ourselves at Kabalas HaTorah 2012 embracing the very biggest and best, with all its clamoring bells and whistles, that America has to offer! How do we make sense of this?
Interestingly, the situation could have been worse.
For we find a curious and odd back-story behind the naming rights to the new stadium before it settled on “MetLife” just last summer in August 2011.
To quote from its entry on Wikipedia:
Allianz, a financial services company based in Germany, expressed interest in purchasing naming rights to the stadium. The proposal was for a period of up to 30 years, and was estimated to be valued at somewhere between $20 million and $30 million USD. However, it sparked protests from New York’s Jewish community and the Anti-Defamation League, which opposed the move due to close ties in the past between Allianz and the government of Nazi Germany during World War II. No agreement was reached and talks between Allianz and the teams ended on September 12, 2008.
If this were successful, could anyone have thought to host the Siyum HaShas in a stadium carrying the name of a company closely associated with Nazi Germany?
As if things couldn’t get any more disturbing:
On June 10, 2010, it was reported that an internet dating site marketed primarily to married people seeking adulterous affairs made a 25 million dollar offer to name the stadium after its own website.
A stadium named after an internet site proudly facilitating one of the three cardinal sins! Can you imagine the utter contradiction in having the Siyum Hashas hosted there?
On June 27, 2011, it was reported that insurance company MetLife entered discussions to purchase naming rights to the stadium. The new name, “MetLife Stadium,” became official when all parties signed a 25-year deal on August 23.
So yes, the stadium is big and bombastic. But at least it’s not named after Nazi sympathizers or brazen adulterers. This just to catch a glimpse into the behind the scenes guiding hand of Heaven and what possibly could have been.
As Jews, we tend to explore the deeper meaning behind “names”. For example, we believe that the naming of a newborn child, although chosen by the parents, is influenced from on high to represent one’s inner identity and soul.
As we have just seen, this newborn baby of a stadium, “MetLife”, could have ended up with a much different and sinister name. A name entirely incompatible with the aims and aspirations of a 90,000 strong crowd in attendance for the completion of Shas.
Fortunately, as Siyata Di’Shmaya appears to have directed, it was instead given the harmless and otherwise boring name of “MetLife”, after Metropolitan Life Insurance Company.
The fascinating question to pose is, if Providence seems to have protected the stadium from a true naming disaster vis-à-vis the Siyum HaShas, can we continue along the same line of thought conjecturing as to a deeper meaning behind the name finally settled on?
In other words, was the chosen name “MetLife” perhaps an act of Divine Providence in itself? And if so, what is the meaning in it?
To answer this question we should begin by speaking about the yichus of the name (just as one would do at the seudah of a baby’s bris).
Who exactly is Metropolitan Life Insurance Company and what is its history?
Returning to Wikipedia, we find what turns out to be for our purposes, a powerfully significant historical footnote:
During World War II, MetLife placed more than 51 percent of its total assets in war bonds, and was the largest single private contributor to the Allied cause.
Who knows how many of the 90,000 strong crowd in August 2012 would never have been born without MetLife’s massive investment into the war effort to defeat Hitler’s armies?
Their 1942 investment is paying out big spiritual dividends seventy years later in 2012. MetLife earned itself the zechus of hosting the largest Kiddush Hashem in memory, taking under its wings the very people it helped save those many years ago.
Let’s continue by reading about the corporate identity of MetLife:
MetLife, Inc. is the holding corporation for the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, or MetLife, for short. MetLife is among the largest global providers of insurance, annuities, and employee benefit programs, with 90 million customers in over 60 countries. The firm was founded on March 24, 1868. By 1930, MetLife insured every fifth man, woman, and child in the United States and Canada.
The famous Metropolitan Life Insurance company tower with light emanating from the tip of its spire carried the company slogan, “The Light That Never Fails”.
MetLife is a corporate anomaly in its having survived, moreover thrived, through a century and a half of turbulent American history, remaining strong as one of the nation’s oldest, most steady and solid names. Its reach is now international, impacting tens of millions of customers across the globe.
Can we not detect here a hint of affinity with our own anomalous Jewish story of survival and growth? Moreover, having acquired a solid and respected name affecting “tens of millions of customers across the globe” as a “light that never fails” to the nations during our long trek through history.
But more importantly, let’s get to very nature of MetLife’s business where things become even more interesting:
MetLife is the largest life insurer in the nation.
On August 1, 2012, isn’t this exactly the essence of what is being celebrated- a grand siyum over the “largest life insurer in our nation”!
The Torah, particularly Torah Shebal Peh, has long been recognized by the Jewish people as being its ultimate “life insurer”, the very secret to its survival in spite of the death and destruction around it. Even after its individual members are gone, the Torah remains intact providing the next generation a lifeboat of continuity and vitality.
Wasn’t this just how the codification of the Mishna and Gemara was conceived? To insure against the harsh winds of a stormy galus threatening the physical existence of the nation? It is through learning that we perpetuate our national identity.
This concept of “Jewish life insurance” is most succinctly articulated, and just so happens to appear, in the Siyum HaShas’ weekly parsha of V’Eschanan:
“V’atem hadbeikim l’Hashem Elokeichem, Chaim Kulchem Hayom”. “And those of you who attach yourself to Hashem, you are the ones who are kept alive to this day”.
No individual lives on forever. Everyone needs life insurance to leave something for the next generation, to give our children a means for future survival and sustenance. For the Jewish nation, this is the heritage of Torah learning.
So too on a personal level.
We each need “life insurance” every waking day of our own lives. For death is always imminent, even when we have decades more to live. The Malach Hamoves does not arrive at our door only when one’s time is up, but also when one has all the time in the world. This Yetzer has his hands placed firmly on the moments belonging to the soul, over the “koras ruach” of Olam Haba.
“The Soton, Malach HaMoves and the Yetzer Hara are one and the same”.
How then does one purchase “life insurance” for himself? How does one buy the means for his own future survival and sustenance, to guarantee that the soul lives to see tomorrow’s day in spite of the constant assault of this lurking Soton?
“Each day the Yetzer renews its assault on a person. Says Hashem, I created the Evil Inclination, and I created the Torah as its antidote. Barasi Yetzer Hara, Barasi Torah tavlin lo”.
Life insurance is an investment of today’s hard-earned money for long-term security. So is Torah learning. Particularly, the kind of learning that requires back-breaking effort, the intense ameilus b’Torah of learning a page of Gemara. This is what gives a person a taste of eternity, freedom of the soul. “Cherus al Ha’Luchos”.
“Ein divrei Torah miskayemes ela b’mi sh’maymis atzmo aleyha. Words of Torah can be firmly established only in one who causes to death to himself for it”.
“Mi chamocha Baal Gevuros, umi domeh lach, Melech Meymis U’Mechaye u’matzmiach yeshua. Who is compared to you Master of Wonders, and who is like You, King who causes death and makes alive, and makes salvation flourish”.
Many years ago the people of our nation looked upon the inscribed words “Arbeit Macht Frei- Labor sets you free” while passing through the entrance to hell.
This was nothing less than Soton’s big joke. To turn on its head the very secret to Jewish survival using it as the slogan for extermination.
Perhaps we may now allow ourselves the last laugh.
For with the celebration of the 12th Siyum HaShas, rejoicing over the back-breaking labor that truly sets us free, we surprisingly find ourselves in a modern American arena bearing the name “MET (Meis) –LIFE (Chai)”, “MAYMIS-U’MECHAYEH”.
Through the “Maymis” atzmo of ameilus b’Torah do we attain the eternal Eitz “Chaim” of an earthly Gan Eden.