With so much in the news that is either negative or alarming, whether it is concerns about running out of water in California, safety in our communities, or threats to world security whether from Iran or ISIS or…you name the problem…the challenge is to retain balance and to find the positives that make life joyous.
I suspect most Jews think of Judaism as more associated with heaviness, weightiness or, as many were raised to feel, Jewish guilt…for not doing enough or living up to standards that seem overwhelming. Many are intimidated by the varieties of Jewish ritual and the length of services especially as we anticipate the arrival of the Days of Awe, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur in the middle of September.
Much of the overwhelm associated with Judaism stems from the focus on survival, assuring the next generation keeps the 3000 year old commitment to Jewish continuity. Since the disappearance of the Ten Tribes in 722BCE, Judaism emerged as a program dedicated to survival, as we became known as the “Remnant of Israel”, and derived the name “Jew” from the main tribe that survived, Judah. For over 2500 years the goal has been survival, to keep this system, and ourselves, alive, wherever we might live and under all conditions.
That mandate has not always been conducive to joy. Joy has been overshadowed by feelings of obligation, necessity and what became the key to the whole system, responsibility, which is how I translate “mitzvah”. A bi-product of honoring that responsibility has been experiencing Judaism as an end unto itself, i.e. the need to survive no matter what and if necessary at the expense of not knowing the whys and meaning of all the details we have carried forward in order to keep ourselves and our system alive.
Paradoxically, the reason Judaism exists is to “celebrate” and honor God’s Presence in this world by living as God’s partners to bring goodness, caring, kindness, justice and compassion into as many aspects of life as we can. And, the rituals we have kept alive, often by rote, which itself is conducive to boredom and guilt when we don’t know the “whys”, are intended to help us and remind us of all of life’s blessings and, yes, joys.
In accepting and embracing responsibility to our Creator and Partner in Covenant, we are told: “Ivdu et Adonai b’Simcha!”/ “Do your Service/Work for God with Joy”. And, one of our major festivals, with which we will close the 23 day holiday period that begins with Rosh Hashanah is the day that connects at the end with the Sukkot harvest holiday (of joy!) called Simchat Torah, Rejoicing with the Torah.
B’nai Israel, our community structure for observing and celebrating Jewish identity and continuity, offers opportunities to turn the weightiness and seriousness of Judaism into uplifting times together and, in so celebrating life with each other, turning life’s seriousness into the joy of having each other and our contexts to appreciate life’s ongoing blessings.
One such context is our annual visit, now in its 5th year/“inning” with KNBR’s Marty Lurie, as we shed unique light on Judaism through the lens of baseball, and vice versa. This year’s theme is finding joy as we do so in both baseball and Judaism. Previous years we have linked baseball and Judaism to these other life affirming themes: community, ritual, memory and last year the meeting, metaphorically of course, of the baseball gods and the God of Israel.
I am particularly looking forward to this year’s theme, Judaism, Baseball and Joy, given how serious and weighty so much of life is these days, not just in terms of Jewish continuity, but in a broader sense for a world facing threats from so many different areas of existence, not the least of which is global warming and fears of running out of water. We will explore these concerns during the Days of Awe, but to set the tone of optimism, we will ready ourselves for the holiday period during the month before Rosh Hashanah, called Elul, as we draw closer to God by doing so with each other and seeking unique ways to “serve God, i.e. and each other, with joy!”
So, save the fifth day of Elul, corresponding to August 20, as we en”joy” baseball food at 6PM followed by uplifting conversation with Marty Lurie, in the fifth inning of a very special game we play together, thanks to Marty’s generosity of his time and his labor of love…and joy. And in the meantime, with everything else going on for us to juggle in balancing life’s weightiness and joys, I conclude with these wishes: Seek ways to serve God in Joy…and …Go Giants!