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Parshas Nitzavim / Rosh Hashana - Pitching In                       26 Elul 5779

09/26/19 18:08:01


This year the solar month of September ran neck and neck to the lunar month of Elul. The month of September is by and large the last month of baseball’s regular season preceding the playoffs, while Elul is the last month of the year prior to the post season’s high holidays of Rosh Hashana and Yom HaKippurim. It is during these critical months of Sept/Elul that we prepare for the Big Game, both joining as one in the same pitch.

On Rosh Hashana we hear the pitch of the Shofar blowing, creating a position for us to be successful on the day of judgment. Baseball season boils down to who is going to pitch. Going through the month, I recognized an eerie similarity in the realm of the pitch of the Shofar to the pitching rotation and strategy of who starts and who finishes the game on the mound.

Traditionally, one pitcher pitched the entire game. In the early days of Major League Baseball, substituting a player was not allowed except for sickness or injury. An ineffective pitcher would switch positions with another player on the field. The first relief appearance in the major leagues was in 1876 with Boston Red Caps outfielder Jack Manning switching positions with pitcher Joe Borden. Fast forward to the modern era, a relief pitcher (aka reliever, collectively the bullpen) is a pitcher who specializes is coming into a game started by another pitcher. The difference in usage patterns goes beyond when the pitchers are brought into the game. Unlike starters, who are given several days off after each appearance, relievers are expected to be able to pitch throughout several consecutive games. A relatively recent development in relief pitching is the use of relievers in highly-specific roles. Rather than using all relievers in essentially the same way, as teams do with their starters, managers now try to use each reliever in one of a small number of stereotypical roles that depend on the game situation and the opposing batter. The latest in baseball, an opening pitcher, more frequently referred to as an opener, is a pitcher who specializes in getting the first outs in a game before being replaced by a long reliever or a pitcher who would typically be a starting pitcher. Now, you may be thinking, how does this resemble the blowing of the Shofar?

The Shofar is blown throughout the entire month of Elul except for Erev Rosh Hashana. The Shofar blowing during Elul is just a short blast of Tekiah, Shvarim-Teruah Tekiah at the end of the morning prayer. There were some communities who blew Shofar in the evening after Maariv, but that custom is rarely practiced today. There are many people who can blow Shofar during the month of Elul, but usually they are not the same individuals who blow Shofar on Rosh Hashana. Being a Baal Tokeah (shofar blower) requires skill, stamina and talent. Sure, a few short blows is easy, but on Rosh Hashana the main blower/ Tokea needs to pace himself for the long one-hundred blasts of the day. Each word, i.e. tekiah , shevarim, or teruah, are considered one sound each. During Elul this equals a total of four sounds while Rosh Hashana this equals one hundred kolos/sounds. In baseball there is a reliever, if necessary. Does such a concept exist for blowing the Shofar? Can more than one person blow the Shofar on Rosh Hashana? The Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 585:3 states:אם התחיל לתקוע ולא יכול להשלים ישלים אחר ואפי' ג' או ד' ודי בברכה שבירך הראשון והוא שיהיו שם התוקעים האחרונים בשעת ברכה ואפילו אם בירך ולא יכול לתקוע כלל השני תוקע בלא ברכה ולא הויא ברכה לבטלה: If a person begins to blow the Shofar but cannot finish, someone else can finish. Even three or four people can relieve the starter, and not only can they participate, they do not need to make a Bracha if they heard it already from the beginning. The technical reason this arrangement works is the rule of Kal Yisrael Areivim Zeh BaZeh: every Jew is a guarantor for one another. In essence, we are all like one person, therefore even if another individual comes along to help and complete the blowing of the Shofar, it’s still considered the same one person who is performing the act or the Mitzva. The Shofar may be blown by one or multiple people can join and help. This is the classic example of a starter and reliever. The starter needs to pace himself while the reliever gives it his all right away. In this new age of baseball, with a reliever who starts the game for one or two innings, he gives it his all in the beginning instead of at the end. With regard to the blower of the Shofar, the main pitcher is the Rosh Hashana blower while the reliever - either in the beginning or the end - is the man who does the short stint during Elul. The Jewish people are not just a regular team for the here and now; we are a team that is strung together from game to game, each from one time period to the next.

In this week’s Parshas Nitzavim the Torah states in Devarim 29:13,14 “ולא אתכם לבדכם אנכי כרת את הברית הזאת ואת האלה הזאת. כי את אשר איננו פה עמנו עמד היום לפני ה אלוקינו ואת אשר איננו פה עמנו היום. “But it is not with you alone that I am making this covenant and this dreaded oath. I am making it both with those who are standing here with us today before God our Lord, and with those who are not [yet] here with us today.” On the word ‘yet’ Rashi explains that includes future generations. An obvious question exists: How is it possible to include the future generations in an obligation of a covenant without them being present? Rabbeinu Bachya comments consistently on both verses stating that it is not with you alone, referring to a father who was present. A father is the root and source for his children and for the future branches that will come forth from his [the father’s] roots. Therefore, if the roots were present at the signing of the bris/covenant, then whatever those roots bring forth later are connected and considered an offshoot from their origin. Regarding the second verse “…and with those who are not yet here with us” Rabbeinu Bachya explains those who are not here today in body, but who are here with us today in spirit or with their souls. Other commentaries mention that later generations are dependent upon the previous generations and the previous generations are dependent upon the later generations, vis a vis fulfilling the covenant. Meaning, it’s all or nothing. Those who are here now and those who will be here later; ultimately, Klal Yisrael is viewed as one large body stretching from generation to generation. We do not view the existence of the Jewish people in a vacuum, but rather on a continuum of existence. And so we learn that one Jew can relieve another Jew and carry on the responsibility of fulfilling a particular Mitzva or the ultimate leadership and mission of the Jewish people.

When we hear the blowing of the Shofar on Rosh Hashana, any one of us could be filling that position, taking on that role on behalf of each other. The halacha/law that states we are permitted to have a reliever or substitute for the Shofar blower is not limiting to being given permission to do so. Rather, it is a message that we are all there for each other; we are ready to step in for our fellow Jew in time of need. It is with this lesson in mind we approach the holy and awesome days of Rosh Hashana to let Hashem know that we are not only individuals, but we come as a nation. We come as a people as brothers and sisters ready to help one another. In this merit may we all be zocheh to a Kesiva Va’Chasima Tova, a Happy and sweet New Year!

Ah Gut Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Sun, May 24 2020 1 Sivan 5780