In the last few months, my older kid has become thoroughly obsessed with baseball. I was once upon a time a jock, so I am no stranger to sports. But baseball never quite did it for me. A bit too much waiting around and patriotic fervor. Nonetheless, I have been to many a baseball game this summer. Major leagues, minor leagues, collegiate leagues, even a few dyke softball games. For the most part it has been a journey of sympathetic joy, delighting in my kid's delight. So you can imagine my surprise when this year as I was re-reading my beloved High Holidays book, This Is Real and You Are Completely Unprepared, and I found many a baseball reference. Turns out he was quite a fan!
Rabbi Alan Lew z"l, writes:
"The dream of the lost home must be one of the deepest of all human dreams. Certainly it is the most ancient dream of the Jewish people...And this dream is the basis of that most profound expression of the American psyche, the game of baseball, a game whose object is to leave home in order to return to it again, transformed by the time spent circling the bases" (23).
Teshuva is the Jewish home run, Jewish tradition's most prized possession. There's this amazing moment in the Talmud when the rabbis try to make this point crystal clear:
So great is teshuva, says Rebbe Hama bar Hanina, that it brings healing to the whole world.
I can top that, Rebbe Yonatan says. Teshuva is so great that it brings redemption closer.
Rebbe Shmuel Bar Nachmani weighs in: You wanna know how amazing teshuva is? Teshuva elongates the years of a person's life!
Rebbe Meir concludes: Listen. I'll tell you what teshuva's capable of. When one individual makes teshuva, the whole world is forgiven (Yoma 86ab).
And in my experience, it is true, that teshuva makes the world possible and more whole. And it's also true that it's really hard to do. My friend and teacher, Rabbi Jordan Braunig, recently directed my attention to a tale that can be found in S.Y. Agnon's Days of Awe. The story, which I will retell, is of a poor country woman who finds an egg. As it happens, she has many hungry children at home and little food to feed them. Yet, when she gathers her little ones to announce the good news about the egg she tells them that, being a woman of purpose, she will not foolishly cook the egg but will take it to a neighbor's setting hen and wait for it to hatch. Then, instead of simply allowing the chicken to grow for slaughter, she will set it on eggs and they will all hatch and there will be many chicks. And, instead of feasting on chicken and eggs, she tells her children that she will sell them in the market in order to purchase a cow. As you might have guessed, she doesn’t plan to settle for steak dinner at this point but will wait for the cow to produce calves and then will sell calves and buy a field. In the end, they’ll have fields and chickens and cows and won’t want for anything. As the woman speaks to her children, engrossed in fantasy and playing with the egg, it falls from her hands and cracks on the floor.
Agnon's telling ends with this moral: Said our master: "That is how we are. When the Holy Days arrive, every person resolves to do teshuvah, thinking in their heart, 'I'll do this, and I'll do that.' But the days slip by in mere deliberation, and thought doesn't lead to action, and what is worse, a person who made the resolution may fall even lower."
It is easy to get ahead of ourselves, to imagine the finished product, but to forget the immediate task at hand. What are a few "first steps" that you want to make in the coming days? Let's be patient with ourselves, and at the same time be aware of how precious time is.
As we enter the quiet of Shabbat before the joy of the new moon of Tishrei is upon us, I would like to begin by asking each of you for your forgiveness, for any ways I may have missed the mark this past year. Please know I am available to make a repair.
Wherever and however you are marking this Rosh Hashanah, may it be sweet as honey and may you be written in for a year of goodness.
May this be the year...L'Shana Tova!
Rabbi Ari Lev
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Rabbi Ari Lev Fornari brings Torat Hayyim, a living tradition, to Kol Tzedek Synagogue through thoughts about prayer, justice, and community.