I gave this sermon at my congregation this past Saturday. The full text can be found at this link. But the Giant highlights, opening, and closing are posted below.
No less than the great Rabbi Solomon Schechter, former head of the Jewish Theological Seminary, world-renowned scholar, and probably the most influential thinker of Conservative Judaism ever once said to a young rabbinical student named Louis Finkelstein, who himself would one day become the Chancellor of the JTS Rabbinical School: “Unless you know baseball, you will never get to be a rabbi in America.”
- Everybody loves an underdog. Certainly, the Giants are one of those long-suffering teams. No one, certainly myself included, thought they could or would do it. There had just been too many instances in the past of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. So when they finally did it, it was hard to root against them.
- Everybody loves an “Eruv Rav,” which means the mixed multitude that the Book of Exodus tells us left Egypt along with the Israelites during the exodus. These Giants had castoffs that nobody else wanted like Pat Burrell and Cody Ross. These Giants had characters like Brian Wilson with his beard and Tim Lincecum with his hair. These Giants had clean cut Southern boys like Buster Posey, Matt Cain, and Madison Bumgarner, young men who do their jobs without a lot of fanfare. These Giants had Edgar Renteria, who did nothing for two years and 16 million dollars but became the MVP of the World Series. These Giants had Aubrey Huff, who was only here because Nick Johnson and Adam LaRoche, their first two choices, were not interested. I especially identified with this one, since I became the rabbi here only because your first choice, Rabbi Jerry Danzig, decided not to take the job. Yet here I am, nine and a half years later, still reveling in our successes together.
- There were angels in the outfield. Pardon the idolatrous reference here, but this is something fans often refer to as the baseball gods. What were the odds that such eerie things would happen to all three opposing 2ndBasemen, Brooks Conrad of the Braves, Chase Utley of the Phillies, and Ian Kinsler of the Rangers? It was strange enough when Conrad and Utley made error after inexplicable error, but when Ian Kinsler hit a home run ball off the top of the wall that somehow bounced back onto the field for a double, even the most agnostic had to wonder what was going on. You need errors and bad calls and lucky bounces to win a World Series, but there were times we were all thinking that someone really must have wanted the Giants to win this one. You need all that plus really good starting pitching. The fact is they won based on a combination of skill, luck, and the unexplainable. Life is like that. You need good fortune, but you have to put yourself in position to take advantage of the good fortune that might come your way. This mixture was on full display in this World Series.
- You have to appreciate the Shehecheyanu moments when they occur. The Shehecheyanu prayer is recited when we are thankful that we have reached a particular season or moment in time. It says: “Blessed are You, Adonai our God, Ruler of the universe, who has given us life, sustained us, and enabled us to reach this season. After 52 years without a championship in this city and 56 for the franchise, all of us sensed the moment and hung on to the appreciation. I had season tickets in 1971 as a 5 year old, and I watched Bob Robertson hit three home runs in the playoffs to crush our hopes. As an adult I bought my own season tickets in 1989, and I was there at Candlestick Park when the earth shook. All too many of us remember 2002 when we were on the congregational retreat to Camp Newman, and the score was 5-0 Giants before we recited Havdalah ending Shabbat. I wished we could have extended Shabbat further, because immediately after Havdalah, Scott Spezio hit that 3 run home run which would prove to the opening blow to an historically crushing defeat. The “torture” breeds a more intense appreciation, so we, or at least I, can’t stop appreciating or going to parades or talking about everything that occurred. And if the Giants can win the World Series, who knows what else can happen? Why not Cal in the Rose Bowl? Why not the economy rebounding? Why not world peace? Why not the coming of the Messiah?
- In all seriousness, though, the final lesson is that life goes on. Because I woke up the next morning to find a $900 car repair bill awaiting me. And my children had rough days at school. And long-time member Frank Weinberg died. Real life, sadly, goes on.
Baseball is metaphorical like that, isn’t it? We have these moments in our lives, the weddings, the Bar Mitzvah, the moments of intense spirituality when we sense God’s presence in our lives, and then we wake up the next day and realize that we still have to go back to our normal lives, which can be routine or tedious or tragic or, alternatively, safe and warm and wonderful, depending on the moment and the week and the year. So, in the end, I suppose the most important message is to appreciate the triumphant moments when we can.
So in the post Russ Hodges and the “Shot Heard Round the World” and Basket Catch era we have endured for 56 years without a championship as Giant fans, we say Kol Hakavod, all the honor and glory. We say it for our superstars in San Francisco who never got to experience that championship like Willie Mays and Willie McCovey and Juan Marichal and Will Clark and Robby Thompson and Matt Williams and Rick Reuschel and Barry Bonds and Jeff Kent and Jason Schmidt. We say it for goats like Johnnie LeMaster and Atlee Hammaker and Candy Maldonado and Salomon Torres. We say it for characters like John “the Count” Montefusco and Greg “Moon Man” Minton and Jeffrey “Hack Man” Leonard. And we say it for obscure players that only obsessed people like me have probably heard of like Ed Goodson and Marc Hill and William Van Landingham.
So while we probably shouldn’t say the actual Shehecheyanu, the prayer which expresses thanks “for giving us life, sustaining us, and enabling us to reach this season,” because it would be considered a prayer said for a vain purpose, for all of us life-long Giant fans, we do say kol hakavod, all the honor and glory. And we say a “Giant” thank you not for giving us life but for enriching our lives, not fur sustaining us but for entertaining us, and not for enabling us to reach this season, but for allowing us to appreciate this season. And let us let out a “Giant” Amen.<!-- end blog post -->
© 2008-2010 Temple Beth Abraham | 327 MacArthur Boulevard,