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Rooting for a Winning Team

on Friday, July 20 2012. Posted by Rabbi Efrem Goldberg
Often referred to as America’s pastime, Baseball is indeed considered as American as Mom and apple pie.   This week, my family and I had the privilege of attending a game of my beloved Major League leading, New York Yankees.   While perhaps the view would be better if watching on TV, there is something very special about attending a baseball game in person.  The first look at the manicured grass, the call of “get your cracker jacks here,” the seventh inning stretch, and the singing of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game,” all leave wonderful memories.

But perhaps the biggest reason to attend a baseball game in person is to feel the incredible electricity in the air generated by 50,000 fans all cheering passionately for the same thing.    It is always remarkable to me how at sporting events, strangers instantly become friends and people who would never associate with one another in almost any other circumstance, are high fiving and rejoicing in their shared team’s successes and triumph.  Consider how tens of thousands spontaneously and without a spoken word coordinate cheers like doing the wave or a rhythmic clap.  

And yet, there is something so shallow and superficial about a community of people whose sole commonality is rooting for the same team who are playing what is ultimately a game. Each game, and even the entire season, has no real consequences or meaning in the greater scheme of things.  People allocate significant amounts of money and devote amazing emotional energy and concern for something that will not impact their lives an iota.  The fans filling the stadium are pure spectators, passive and un-influential in determining the outcome of the game or the destiny of their team.   

In truth, Sports doesn’t aspire to provide anything more than entertainment.  The word sport is related to disport, to divert or distract oneself.  People become spectators to sports as a way of taking a break from having to live their own lives.   There is nothing wrong with escaping for a short time in order to relax and reinvigorate.  However, the challenge is not bringing a spectator mentality back into our own lives and making sure not to confuse entertainment with those things that truly matter.  

As I left Yankee Stadium together with 50,000 fans, I couldn’t help but think of another event that will draw almost twice as many people in a short time from now.  In a few weeks, a community of 90,000 people will come to Met Life Stadium.  They will gather not to admire feats of athleticism or to watch grown men catch or hit a ball.  They will come together to celebrate the Siyum Ha’Shas, the completion of seven and a half years of daily study of Talmud, one page at a time.

Not everyone attending the Siyum will themselves have completed this incredible accomplishment.  Many will be there as fans and admirers.  But unlike sports, they will be part of a community whose commonality is deep, not shallow, meaningful, and not superficial.   Unlike sports, the 90,000 filling the seats at Met Life Stadium and the thousands around the world watching live via hookup will not be passive spectators.  They, and we, will be listening, growing, learning and finding great inspiration in this milestone event.  

Some of us will be moved to dedicate more time to learning in general.  Others will commit to support learning opportunities for others.  And some may be so motivated that they will begin the new cycle of Daf Yomi and find themselves in just seven and a half years making their own siyum on Shas.   I hope you will decide to be part of this remarkable community marking an extraordinary occasion and setting out once again on an incredible journey of learning and growing.

This week, another event drew hundreds of thousands.  They came together to honor and mourn Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv z’tl, the preeminent Posek and Halachik authority of our time.  The crowds of people who gathered did not know each other or have personal connections to one another.  And yet, they were anything but a random assembly.  Though they were a community of diverse individuals, they shared a special bond and commitment.  Most attendees wore black hats, but more than a few wore knitted Kippot and some in attendance normally did not wear a kippah at all.  However, what united them was their desire to be counted among those who gathered to say goodbye to a prominent Jewish leader and show honor to the Torah he had learned and the values he had dedicated his life towards.  

We find ourselves in the Nine Days, the period of intense mourning for the destruction of our Holy Temples in Yerushalayim.   The devastation came as the result of divisiveness, conflict and discord.  The repair can only come about through unity, love and harmony.  There is no better time than now to be part of a community that cares about what truly matters in life and that seeks to make a difference in the world.    

If you are going to follow Baseball, there is no doubt that the Yankees are God’s team.   But much more importantly, show devotion, dedication, care and concern for God’s people and be counted among the greatest fans of His sacred Torah. 

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