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Parshas Vayeilech - To Greet or be Greeted?     5 Tishrei 5783

09/30/2022 08:50:04 AM


History in the making catches the attention even of those who typically may not be interested in that particular happening. I believe most Americans have heard of the sport of baseball and even a team named the Yankees. Nevertheless, they may not follow or even care about this team or baseball in general.

The Yankees debuted to a cheering section seated in the right-field of Yankee Stadium on May 22, 2017. Called "The Judge's Chambers", the section spanned three rows containing 18 seats located in section 104. Fans were chosen by the team, seated there,and outfitted with black robes, wigs, and foam gavels. Since 2017, this section in Yankee Stadium stands out among the other sections in the ‘House that Ruth built’. It all started with a young rookie phenom named Aaron James Judge. The Judge’s Chambers are a section of seats out in the right field outfield next to the bleachers. The cheering section looks like a jury box with faux wood paneling, all causing this special section within the ballpark to stand out entirely from others. The jury box consists of three rows of seats located directly in the back of the right-field seats. Every time Aaron Judge walked up to the plate, viewers could see this entire section “rise” in honor of the slugger.

Judge began his career slugging home runs, continuing his wins with the    unbelievable feat of tying Roger Maris (also a Yankee) for the most home runs (61) in a season, a feat which, as of this moment, has not been beaten by any American league player. As Judge’s slugging record approached tying Babe Ruth’s record of sixty home runs, ticket sales and prices skyrocketed with fans wanting to witness baseball history. As of today, ticket prices for the upcoming game tops out at ten thousand dollars, climbing even higher as each game passes. One of the highlights of Judge’s career was listening to Yankee broadcaster John Sterling announce “All Rise… Here comes the Judge”. The original phrase "Here Comes the Judge" is a song made famous by American soul and comedy singer Pigmeat Markham, first released in 1968. The source of any of these “All Rise” are words, now part of our common vernacular announcing the arrival of a judge entering a courtroom, connoting respect for the authority of the court. Whatever the origin of such  phrases, the expression must be appreciated in context. Being part of a song, or even acknowledging the source coming from the  American pastime sport of baseball,  does not do justice to the concept. Perhaps in the courtroom one could find reason for expressing respect to the law and the person representing the law who enters the courtroom dressed in the dignified, somber, black robe.  

The irony of the hype during the Aseres Yemei Teshuva is eerily awkward, mentioning the coming of the judge and needing to stand. I must take objection to the roles that the people and the judge play. As we now find ourselves during these ten days of repentance, our lives hanging in the balance between life and death, the arena of a stadium, or even a courtroom, is far different than the Beis Din Shel Maalah - the Heavenly court where the ultimate Judge sits. Here, in the lower courts, the judges enter the room where the jurors, spectators and litigants are sitting, while in the Heavenly Court we all must enter the courtroom where the Judge is sitting, awaiting our appearance.  The powerful prayer Unisaneh Tokef, which we recited on Rosh Hashana and will again say on Yom Kippur, states, “All mankind will pass before You like members of the flock. Like a shepherd pasturing his flock, making sheep pass under his staff, so shall You cause to pass, count, calculate, and consider the soul of all the living”.

I cringed thinking of the day the record was tied, how the media stressed the scenario where people stood in their places as the judge entered the courtroom. In Selicha 64 are the words "ואני לא נקראתי לבא אל המלך"  -“while I have not been called to come to the King”. In our case the Judge is the King, our Father, and yet we go to Him; He awaits our arrival, not the other way around. Although, per Tefilla, we are supposed to arrive before Hashem, nevertheless in the Courtroom of our King, Hashem is ever-present. In this holy Courtroom, we – every one of us - find ourselves being brought to The Judge. This bit of baseball history and the Days of Awe also coincide with a mitzva relating to the King of Israel.

The Torah in this week’s Parsha Vayeilech states in Devarim 31:12 "הקהל את העם האנשים והנשים והטף וגרך אשר בשעריך למען ישמעו ולמען ילמדו ויראו את ה' אלוקיכם ושמרו לעשות את כל דברי התורה הזאת"  “You must gather together the people - Hakhel: the men, women, children and proselytes from your settlements, and let them hear it. They will thus learn to be in Awe of God your Lord, carefully keeping all the words of this Torah.”

Many commentators ask why young children were also required to be present at Hakhel. The Gemara Chagigah 3a states: Rabbi Eleazar ben Azariah said: “Men would come to learn, and women would come to listen. Why would children come? To provide a reward for those who brought them.” Maharsha takes that to mean even children who are not yet in school, similar to a tradition of Sefer Chasidim: we don’t bring such small children to shul, since they distract their parents and others around them. The Ramban and Rashi indicate that even the youngest children should be brought. Rashi explains in Gemara Megillah 5a that we delay a Hakhel that falls on Shabbat  so that parents are able to carry their small children when there is no eruv. R. Ovadya Yosef suggests that there is a value -  even at the age of infancy - so that even the youngest of all will become accustomed to  hearing Torah, benefitting from being at an event where the Divine Presence is particularly present. The Gemara in Yevamos 64a tells us that any gathering of over 22,000 Jews has an added element of the Divine Presence. I’m not certain as to exactly when the King arrived at Hakhel. The point for Hakhel is not whether the King arrived before or after the people. Rather, it is to teach the lesson that we “go to” see the King, in person to listen to Hashem’s Torah. In life, it is always better to take the initiative, to go out actively and greet someone first and not wait to be greeted.  I would not swear to this in court, but I definitely want to confess, that I enjoy watching the Judge chase history. Nevertheless, when it comes to Yom Kippur, we had all better show up and take our places. There is no sitting back, waiting for the judge to arrive.  The Judge of all Judges is waiting for us – every one of us – to be there in sincere humility and repentance for our day in court.

Ah Gutten Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Fri, December 8 2023 25 Kislev 5784