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Parshas Yom Kippur (5772)

“Ball” Nidrei

Gottlieb called his rabbi and said, “I know tonight is Kol Nidrei, but tonight the Yankees start the playoffs. Rabbi, I’m a lifelong Yankee fan. I’ve got to watch the Yankee game on TV.” The rabbi responds, “Gottlieb, that’s what VCR’s are for”. Gottlieb is surprised. “You mean I can tape Kol Nidrei?”

This is not such a joke. Sadly, there are many, many Jews out there who would put the playoffs before Yom Kippur and Kol Nidrei.

In fact, one of the best players in Major League Baseball today, Ryan Braun of the Milwaukee Brewers, whose father is Jewish and whose grandparents and extended family were wiped out in the Holocaust, will be playing Game Five of the NLDS this Friday night against the Arizona Diamondbacks while the rest of his father’s side of the family will likely be in shul for Kol Nidrei. This is unlike his Jewish predecessors, the two baseball greats Hank Greenberg and Sandy Koufax, both of whom refused to play ball on Yom Kippur, even though it was during the playoffs or the World Series. Greenberg’s courageous move even inspired a poem (written by Edgar A. Guest) which ends with the lines “We shall miss him on the infield and shall miss him at the bat / But he's true to his religion—and I honor him for that.”

I, for one, can only say “Thank G-d” that the New York Yankees were knocked out of the playoffs yesterday by the Detroit Tigers. This way, millions of Jewish Yankee fans (like me) can now begin to focus on the more important stuff going on in our lives and in the world around us. With Yom Kippur almost upon us, it is nice to know that there is one less distraction for us to think about on this, the holiest day of the year.

Yom Kippur is – pardon the baseball analogy – like Game Seven in the World Series. It is Do or Die. We have had many “at-bats” and opportunities to “improve our game” since the Jewish “post-season” began on the first day of the Hebrew month of Elul forty days ago. Now it’s “crunch time” and we need to “give it all we got” to ensure that we win this battle against our arch-nemesis (the Satan/Angel of Death) who is trying his best to beat us at our own game. We need to get ourselves out of the “slump” we’ve been in for way too long and to finally “get on base”, so that we can eventually “come home”. And we only have so much time left, because once the Shofar blows at the end of the Neilah service on Saturday evening, the final score is tallied and the game is over.

If we want to get a real sense of what this “game” is all about, we have only to look at the very first words we say at the beginning of Yom Kippur just before Kol Nidrei, and the very last words we chant at the end of Yom Kippur just before the Shofar is blown.

Tonight we begin the Yom Kippur service chanting in unison the words “Ohr Zarua LaTazaddik Ul’Yishrei Leiv Simcha – Light is sown for the righteous; and for the upright of heart, gladness”. And at the end of Yom Kippur tomorrow night, we will all recite seven times, aloud and in unison, the words, “Ado-noy Hu Ha’Elo-him - The L-ord, Only He is G-d”.

What is the meaning of these particular chants which sandwich the holiest day of the year, and what is the connection between them?

The Sages of the Mishnah teach us that there is no happier day of the year than Yom Kippur (see Taanis 26b). The reason for this is because “Ein Simcha K’Hataros Ha’Sefeikos – There is no greater joy than the resolution of doubt”.

You see, all throughout the year we are plagued with doubt (whether we realize it or not) because we are full of contradictions, and we are constantly being pulled in many different directions. Our bodies pull us one way, and our souls push us the in the opposite direction. We are proud of being Jewish, yet we sometimes consider it a burden. We profess a belief in a G-d Who created this world, yet we sometimes doubt He even exists. We chant the Shema in the synagogue, proclaiming that there is only One True G-d, yet we sometimes worship other gods – money, power, our bodies, etc.

We are much like the Jewish people at the time of the wicked King Ahab over 2500 years ago, when worship of the idol Baal was widespread, and Elijah the Prophet challenged the prophets of the Baal to a “contest” on Mount Carmel to determine once and for all who the real true deity was (see Kings I 18:20-39). Elijah approached all the Jewish people and said, “How long will you dance between two opinions? If [our] G-d is the [true] G-d, go after Him! And if the Baal, go after it!” (verse 21 ibid.). And after he performed an open miracle and convinced the people that G-d was the only true power in the world, they all proclaimed, “Ado-noy Hu Ha’Elo-him - The L-ord, Only He is G-d”.

Yom Kippur is like Mount Carmel in miniature (minus the open miracle). It is a day when we rid ourselves of all the distractions that blur our focus throughout the year – and we get a chance to resolve those doubts and gain clarity as to our real purpose and mission here on earth, and what is truly important in life. That is why the holiday begins with the words “Ul’Yishrei Leiv Simcha - and for the upright of heart, gladness” – because Yom Kippur affords us an opportunity to be “upright of heart” and have our priorities straight, which will give us gladness and joy.

And we hope that by the end of a long day of fasting and praying in the synagogue, we will no longer be “dancing between two opinions” and will have chosen to be on G-d’s team. We will thus be able to proclaim, just as our ancestors did on Mount Carmel so many years ago, “Ado-noy Hu Ha’Elo-him - The L-ord, Only He is G-d”.

May G-d bless all of us this year with the clarity of what it means to be on His team and with the joy that comes from that, and may we all be sealed in the Book of Life for a year of health, happiness and meaning!

HAVE A SAFE AND MEANINGFUL FAST!

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