There was a tradition in rabbinical school that on the first day of school the whole school would gather for an opening breakfast. The centerpiece of the breakfast, other than the free food, was that the chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary would address the rabbis to be with inspiring words as we began our studies. I couldn’t tell you what Ismar Schorsch spoke about four out of my five years of school. But I remember what he said in September of 1995. He talked about Cal Ripken.
Now as a girl from New York the only baseball I was really interested in was the Yankees. Honestly I’m not sure I even knew who Cal Ripken was back then. I had never been to Baltimore, didn’t know what an Oriole looked like, and the only Camden I knew was in New Jersey. But when Chancellor Schorsch spoke about Cal and the record he had just set, I listened. He wasn’t a rabbi who always talked about sports, in fact he never talked about sports except very occasionally in reminiscing about his childhood. It just wasn’t his kind of rabbinate.
But 25 years ago he talked about Cal and that talk has been on my mind this week as we Baltimoreans marked the 25th anniversary of Cal’s magic 2131. The Chancellor spoke in awe of Cal’s remarkable achievement and how he might model for us soon to be rabbis, the depth of commitment it takes to show up every day for synagogues, schools, hospitals, the armed services, and all the places that rabbis work. That while excellence is the goal, almost as important, if not more important, is being present, showing up. Through injury, slumps, cheers and boos, winning streaks, and losing streaks, personal turmoil and triumph we were entering a life where the goal was, like Cal, to keep showing up.
We could all use a little Cal right now, one week before Rosh Hashanah. I’ve heard from some of you who were so lovely and regretful to even be saying something like that, that you’re just not all that excited about showing up on the High HOly Days this year. You’re zoomed out, or your heart’s just not in it, or you just want to skip a year, or it seems too hard to figure out the tech, or any of the other perfectly legitimate reasons to not show up for the High Holy days.
I get it, and I share a lot of your feelings. And yet, I want to urge you to show up and surpass Cal’s 2131 with your own 5781. Because that’s what it means to be part of a synagogue, to be part of a Jewish community, to be part of the Jewish people. It means that we show up for one another at bnei mitzvah like today, during turmoil in our personal lives, turmoil on the national stage, a global pandemic, when our teams win and when our teams lose, at our most joyous times, at our lowest times, and at the turn of the New Year, we show up.
Each day in the month of Elul, and for the first weeks of the New Year we say the words of Psalm 27, the special prayer added for the days of awe. Its centerpiece is the achat sha’alti, the verses that plaintively request, “One thing I ask of God – only one thing I seek. To dwell in the House of God all the days of my life, to behold God’s beauty and visit God’s sanctuary.” We want to be able to show up, to be present in God’s sanctuary, the sanctuaries that we are creating inside our own homes. That too is showing up for one another and this year it is one of the most important things that we’ll do on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur at Chizuk Amuno.
This morning’s Torah portion begins:
אַתֶּ֨ם נִצָּבִ֤ים הַיּוֹם֙ כֻּלְּכֶ֔ם לִפְנֵ֖י יְהוָ֣ה אֱלֹהֵיכֶ֑ם רָאשֵׁיכֶ֣ם שִׁבְטֵיכֶ֗ם זִקְנֵיכֶם֙ וְשֹׁ֣טְרֵיכֶ֔ם כֹּ֖ל אִ֥ישׁ יִשְׂרָאֵֽל׃
You stand this day, all of you, before the LORD your God—your tribal heads, your elders and your officials, all the men of Israel,
טַפְּכֶ֣ם נְשֵׁיכֶ֔ם וְגֵ֣רְךָ֔ אֲשֶׁ֖ר בְּקֶ֣רֶב מַחֲנֶ֑יךָ מֵחֹטֵ֣ב עֵצֶ֔יךָ עַ֖ד שֹׁאֵ֥ב מֵימֶֽיךָ׃
your children, your wives, even the stranger within your camp, from woodchopper to water drawer— (Deuteronomy 29:9-10)
Normally, the Torah is sparse in its descriptions. It’s not like a rabbi who is known for being verbose. It doesn’t say in four words what could be said in two. So it is notable that the opening verses of the parsha mention everyone who was present for Moses’ valedictory address. Not just the leaders, not just the priests, not even just the adults, or just the men. Everyone. Every single member of the community showed up and stood before him that day to take part in the covenant.
Next week we are asking you to do the same. To show up for 5781 for yourself, your family, your community, for the Jewish people all around the world who will be showing up no matter their circumstances. Come be present to sit in God’s House, in your house, and be part of a magical, historical moment and milestone.