Today is Hoshanah Rabbah, the day, which according to Jewish tradition, marks the end of the judgment period of the High Holidays. In marking the day’s solemnity, some have a custom of staying awake the entire night and studying Torah, or reading the book of Psalms.

This Hoshanah Rabbah night, I awoke at 3:30 am, and attended the special services at the synagogue which began this morning at 6:20 am. I wish I could say that the hours between 3:30 and 6:20 were spent in study. However, I must confess that during the pre-dawn hours, I watched the Chicago Cubs defeat the Los Angeles Dodgers to capture the National League pennant, the first time this has happened in 71 years. In between innings, I emailed and texted friends around the world in Skokie, Miami, and Boston, as we joined a world-wide virtual community of Cubs well-wishers.

While it is more likely that I would be a better person had I spent those hours studying the Talmud or reciting Psalms, I can say that I was able to derive some positive Jewish content and thought that are relevant to this time of year, from the mundane activities on the baseball diamond:

  • Is the game (and life) for the living or for the departed? As the Cubs took an early lead of 2-0, and gradually increased the margin to 4-0 and then 5-0, the TV commentators spoke of the pantheon of deceased Cubs greats of yesteryear, from Ernie Banks to Ron Santo, to broadcaster Harry Caray, and how they would have viewed the triumphant events taking place on the field. I even thought of my late father, who took me to many Cubs games, together with his New York Times crossword puzzle, which usually didn’t take him more than an inning or two to complete. What would they think of the Cubs victory? Ecclesiastes, (Kohelet), which was read in the synagogue yesterday, provides the clear answer — “…but the dead know nothing nor do they have a reward any more; for the memory of them is forgotten.” We may wish that they knew what was happening, but the Cubs are no longer on their list. The game is most definitely for the living.
  • Giving thanks and credit to others. After the game ended, and players exulted on the field, the general manager as well as the Cubs’’ field manager were interviewed. Apart from the feelings of gladness and jubilation that prevailed, I was struck by the words of praise and credit that the manager gave to his coaching staff, most of whom are completely unknown to the fans. He not only thanked his players, who hit and fielded most appropriately, and the owner, who has paid the players most generously, but he gave credit to the ‘teachers’, who instructed the players how to hit, field, and run.
  • Don’t give up — there is always hope. I have been a Cubs fan for the past 50 years, since 1967. Coincidentally, the first game I attended was between the Cubs and the same Los Angeles Dodgers. Not surprisingly, the Cubs lost. Since that day, the Cubs have lost many more games than they have won. Over the years, they became expert at snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, and broke the hearts of their fans, myself included, many times. Yet, today they stand as National League Champions, about to begin the World Series.

While I lament my missed hours of pre-dawn Torah study this Hoshanah Rabbah morning, perhaps these lessons I learned will alleviate the loss somewhat. And as many a Jewish Chicagoan has said — ‘when the Cubs win the pennant, we know that the Messiah can’t be far behind!