RE’EH (Deuteronomy, 11:26-16:17) — “A High Fly Matzah Ball into SHALLOW Center Field”

 [This article appeared as an Op-ED in the Jewish Press.  The Jewish Week rejected the article.  I wonder why.  :-)]

Life is filled with choices.  Continuing his final sermon to the People of Israel, Moses reminds them of their choices:

“See that I place before you today a blessing and a curse…”  (Deuteronomy, 11:26)

Moses proceeds to lay out before the Israelites the fact that true blessing is found in observing G-d’s Torah.  He tells them that they are about to enter a land that has different values than those that they have learned at Mt. Sinai.  He warns them to avoid the pitfalls of foreign influences, and to remain steadfast in their observance of Mitzvahs.

As this week’s Torah Portion continues, Moses goes on to describe in detail how to live as a Jew.  He tells us how, and where, and when, to serve G-d.  He tells us what we may eat, and what we may not eat.  He tells us not to listen to those who would suggest that we ignore G-d’s Commandments.  In short, Moses tells his beloved nation, “Observe and listen to all of these things that I command you, so that it should go well for you and your children when you will do that which is good and just in the eyes of your G-d.” (Ibid. 12:28)

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My son and I went to a baseball game the other day.  I usually try to take him to a game or two every season, and this particular day fit into my schedule.  Coincidentally, it happened to have been Jewish Heritage Day at Shea Stadium.  What, I wondered, is “Jewish Heritage?”  Well, now I was going to find out.

It was, in many ways, a wonderful day.  Fortunately for my son-the-Met-fan, the Mets beat the Rockies. (Again!)  The weather was great.  Cliff Floyd had four hits and an intentional walk.  Al Leiter pitched a season-high ten strikeouts.  It was a good day at Shea.

Oh, and the “Jewish Heritage Day?”  To be honest, I was, at best, underwhelmed.  The center field video screen was filled with tidbits of valuable information such as how to say “complain” and “belly button” in Yiddish. We were exposed to the uplifting news that Paul Simon, Neil Diamond, and two hideous-looking “musicians” with face paint are Jewish.

There was a “Name that Tune” contest, in which a spectator at the game proved that she knew the difference between “Hava Nagila” and “Yoya.”  Her prize was a disc jockey for her next family “Simcha.”

I was concerned that there would be a very long line at the Glatt Kosher hotdog stand, due to the large Jewish turnout.  Sadly, I needn’t have been worried.

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How sad.  After all that Torah and Israel have given to the world, THIS is what we celebrate?! Are these empty concepts all that “Jewish Heritage” stands for?  Abraham taught the world that there is one G-d in the world.  Our People have given their lives for Torah values.  They marched through the fires of the Inquisition and the gas chambers of Auschwitz singing Ani Ma’amin and Shema Yisrael, and the best we can do is “Hava Nagilah?!”

Unfortunately, the great American melting pot has created a superficial “Jewish culture” of bagels and lox, pickled herring, and pastrami on rye.  A Jewish mother once complained to me that she couldn’t understand why her son had turned his back on Judaism.  “Every Friday night we had gefilte fish, and chicken soup and EVERYTHING!”

I performed a Bris a few years ago during Passover.  The grandmother remarked that she knew that a Challah during Passover would be inappropriate.  I offered to pick up some Kosher for Passover platters for her.  “Oh, that won’t be necessary,” she replied.  “It doesn’t have to be strictly Kosher.  I just don’t want to do anything that isn’t traditional.”

A Judaism that consists mainly of Gefilte fish, chopped liver and Matzah balls may be gastronomically inviting, but it tends to leave one with spiritual heartburn.

Jewish Heritage Day was a celebration of symbolism without substance.  The video screen may have been in DEEP center field, but its message could not have been more shallow.

To be fair, it was pointed out that some Jewish ball players considered Yom Kippur important enough a day to sit out a ball game.  But hasn’t anyone ever heard of SHABBOS?!

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Let me share with you a bit of baseball history that SHOULD have been mentioned at Shea:

“M.M.” was a Jewish baseball player.  He excelled in high school baseball, and was offered a baseball scholarship at a prestigious university.  His other choice was Yeshiva University.

M.M. had a dilemma.  He had before him the chance for a free education, and a shot at being drafted into Major League Baseball.  It also meant likely compromise of Shabbos and other values.  His other option, Y.U., offered a Torah education.  No baseball, no limelight, no multi-million dollar contracts or adoring fans.

Moses reminds us in this week’s Torah Reading that “… I place before you today a blessing …”  Life is filled with choices.  Difficult, gut-wrenching choices.

Baseball or Shabbos?  Millions or Torah?   M.M. chose Torah.  Today, Rabbi M.M. is a Torah educator who has enriched the lives of countless Jewish children.

Sandy Koufax sat out a World Series game.  And I genuinely respect him for that decision.  But a once-a-year day off for Yom Kippur is a commitment to Jewish culture.  A 52-times-a-year day off for Shabbos is a commitment to TORAH.

Sandy Koufax is a man.  Rabbi M.M. is a superstar.

Let’s live a life of Torah.  Save the culture for your yogurt.

Have a great Shabbos.

Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz

To leave a comment about this article, or to read other readers’ comments on this article, scroll down past the archive links.

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 From the Archives

“The Emperor’s New Tallis” (2010)

It was the social event of the year…

There was, of course, a Chuppah.  How do you have a Simcha without one?  And a framed Ketubah.  And a Yarmulke.  And a Tallis.  And a broken glass.

Oh, there was also a Jewish young man who wanted to get married.

Unfortunately, as far as Torah Law is concerned, he didn’t…

Read more.

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“The Tire Kicker” (2009)

How should we live our lives?  What does G-d want us to do?

The answer to this question SHOULD BE simple:  Open the Torah, read what it says, and do it!  After all, it’s the Master of the World’s instructions.  He made the world and He made us.  Certainly He knows what’s best for us.

He told us to rest on the Sabbath, so we should rest on the Sabbath.  He told us not to worship idols, so we shouldn’t worship idols.

But what if G-d changes His mind?  Do the rules change if G-d decides to set up a different system?

What if G-d decides, “You know, I don’t like the way things are working out with the current Mitzvah arrangement.  The original Testament I set up isn’t working so well.  I think I’ll write a ‘New’ one.”…

Read more.

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 “Birds of Different Feathers …?” (2007)

… It is commonly understood that the reason we don’t eat eagles, owls, and hawks is that they are birds of prey.  Birds that attack other animals and tear them to shreds with their claws are not the types of creatures we want to consume… the Torah wanted to distance us from the consumption of cruel animals because they would somehow taint us spiritually and ingrain a degree of cruelty into our souls.

One interesting bird on the list is the Chasidah, usually translated as a stork… The Chasidah is a very generous bird who shares its food with its fellow Chasidahs.  …  This begs the obvious question… we don’t eat these non-kosher birds because they are cruel.  We don’t want to ingest a nasty bird that kills other animals.  But the Chasidah is a nice guy!  He shares his food with his fellows.  He does Chesed, acts of kindness for others!  So what’s the problem?..

Read more.

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 “You!”  (2006)

… The Talmud describes how the available bachelorettes borrowed dresses (so as not to embarrass one who had none) and went down to the vineyards to meet eligible bachelors … two days, Yom Kippur and the Fifteenth of Av, were the two main days for arranging marriages.

Doesn’t that seem a bit odd?  Yom Kippur, a day of serious spiritual yearning, a time of forgiveness of sins!  Is that the right time to arrange a date?!  The month of Av, a time during which we have shed oceans of tears!  Is that an appropriate time for a singles event?! …

Read more.

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“Terrible or Tear-able? – The Living Talk about Dying” (2005)

… I once went to visit a friend who was sitting Shiva for his father.  He and his mother were both wearing black ribbons pinned to their shirts.  Now this black ribbon, as I will explain, has no significance whatsoever in traditional Jewish practice.  It was the last day of Shiva.  My friend, taking advantage of the fact that a rabbi was visiting, decided to call upon the vast wealth of Torah knowledge that his friend the rabbi could provide.

“So tell me, Rabbi,” he asked.  “How long am I supposed to wear this ribbon?”…

Read more.

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“A Little Bit Kosher?!” (2004)

“There’s no such thing as ‘a little bit pregnant.”  There are no two ways about it; either you are or you aren’t.

Wouldn’t it be nice if Kosher law was so simple? … “Why are there so many Kosher symbols? What ever happened to the plain, simple “K”? O-U, O-K, Star-K? OY VAY!!!!”… I still haven’t answered the question about dual standards.   Must meat be Glatt kosher or not?  Must milk be Cholov Yisroel or not?  IS SHE PREGNANT OR NOT?!

Read more.

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“A High Fly Matzah Ball into SHALLOW Center Field” (2003)

… My son and I went to a baseball game the other day.  I usually try to take him to a game or two every season, and this particular day fit into my schedule.  Coincidentally, it happened to have been Jewish Heritage Day at Shea Stadium.  What, I wondered, is “Jewish Heritage?”  Well, now I was going to find out.

It was, in many ways, a wonderful day.  Fortunately for my son-the-Met-fan, the Mets beat the  Rockies. (Again!)  The weather was great.  Cliff Floyd had four hits and an intentional walk.  Al Leiter pitched a season-high ten strikeouts.  It was a good day at Shea.

Oh, and the “Jewish Heritage Day?”  To be honest, I was, at best, underwhelmed…

Read more.

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“Spring Ahead …” (2002)

…Jews and Muslims both use a lunar calendar. Rosh Chodesh, the first of the month, always comes out on the new moon. Why then, is there such a discrepancy between the Jewish and Muslim calendars? While Ramadan can come out any time during the year, Rosh Hashanah is always in September, and Passover is always in March or April.  How do calendars that are so similar end up so different?…

If the calendar were left alone… we’d have Chanukah in July! (At least it might eliminate the “December dilemma!”) …

Read more.

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“BREAD, MATZAH…AND PIZZA” (2001)

… Did you ever wonder why we left in a hurry?  We eat Matzah to remember that since we were in a hurry, there was no time for our bread to rise.  But what was the rush?  Why were we in such a hurry?   We couldn’t afford a few more minutes to take the bread out of the oven and put some peanut butter on it?!  210 years in  Egypt, and we can’t take the time to pack and leave like a mentch?!…

Read more.

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This is the weekly message at TorahTalk.org. Copyright © 2000-2011 by Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz.  May be reprinted. Please include copyright information.

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Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz is a Mohel (Brisrabbi.com) and chaplain in  Monsey,  New York. For information about scheduling a Bris or a lecture, or just to say hello, call (800) 83MOHEL.

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Published in: on August 22, 2003 at 3:35 am  Leave a Comment  

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