I have always been an avid baseball fan, specifically, for the Chicago Cubs. Being a Cubs fan is a microcosmic Jewish experience. It teaches faith, patience, humility -- and above all, the hope and prayer that the pennant will be here, next year.
I grew up five blocks from Wrigley Field, and naturally was always at the ballpark. My father once wrote me a note for missing school on opening day of the baseball season: "Please excuse Yehuda's absence from school yesterday. He had an acute attack of spring fever and was unable to leave the neighborhood." I once had a string of 10 consecutive opening-day attendances, broken only when I went to college -- the commute from Philadelphia to Chicago for one day, just before final exams, was too much even for me.
At some point, though, I began to think that this obsession with baseball come springtime must be more than simple fandom. I was certain that baseball and spring fever must be connected by some common source.
Opening day brings with it the promise that anything can happen.
Opening day brings with it the promise that anything can happen. Whatever disappointments and under achievements of last season are now "history." Today anything is possible. Everything starts fresh, all the season stats go to "0." How many countless times my fertile childhood imagination replayed images in my head of the Cubs posting a perfect 162-win season, capped by a four-game sweep of the World Series...
Anything can be achieved.
Spring brings with it the sense of renewal, awakening and rebirth. For the Jewish people it is the time of the Exodus from slavery to freedom. It is the season in which we became a nation. Like a new team coalescing during spring training, we have the opportunity to come together anew as a nation. We feel that we can achieve everything. The cold frigidity of winter has passed like a season of unfulfilled promise and another fourth-place finish. The earth turns on its axis and the warmth of the sun blankets us again.
Like a new team coalescing during spring training, we have the opportunity to come together anew as a nation.
In this season, God brought us out of the darkness of Egypt -- a people, not yet a nation, with a collectively broken and demoralized spirit. He brought us close and we felt his warmth, he loved us and helped us back onto our feet. He brought us together as a nation for the first time, culminating in the receiving of the Torah at Mount Sinai.
Judaism believes that time moves in spiral. Each year we move up the spiral, always returning to the same points of yesteryear, but moving upwards nevertheless, learning from the past and always returning to it to draw strength in our continued push up the ladder.
Each year as we return to spring, we can re-experience the Exodus, the coming together as a nation. The Talmud instructs us to view ourselves as if we actually left Egypt. Each year, as spring training arrives and the new baseball season is about to begin, we have the opportunity to relive that great season where our team went all the way -- and to hope that this year will bring the same success.
As the season begins, however, our two concepts diverge significantly. In the world of baseball (as holy as it may be), we the fans rise and fall based on someone else's successes and failures -- and the quirks of fate like an injury or unforeseen slump.
In Judaism, alternatively, we are the players and in control of our own destiny. We can get on base every time we step up to the plate, and we can win 162 straight games every season. God helps by drawing us close to him, igniting a fire deep within us that provides the energy to successfully achieve our perfect season. And then, unlike the Cubs, the dreams of "next year" will always be here this year!