The Cubs and the Jews
It’s September. A time full of anticipation and expectation. The weather is turning cooler, and there’s a gentle breeze in the air. People are preparing for the days of reckoning that lie ahead. It’s a time for introspection and self-examination. Yet, there is hope and feeling that the coming time will be one of happiness and fulfillment.
The Chicago Cubs are going to the postseason.
In 1908, the last time the Cubs won the World Series, Theodore Roosevelt was President of the United States, Wilhelm II was Emperor of Germany, and Henry Ford built the first Model T automobile. In the one hundred and eight years since, while the world experienced the upheavals of devastating wars, bloodshed, violence, and natural disasters, one thing has remained constant — the Chicago Cubs have remained perennial also-rans.
And now, 108 years later, the Cubs, who, this season have the best record in major league baseball, seem poised to win it all. Yet, a true Cubs fan knows that somehow, something can, and most likely, will go wrong.
Is there a connection between the Chicago Cubs and the upcoming high holiday season? Would a Cubs victory in the World Series be the harbinger of a messianic age?
Let’s be serious. Baseball is a sport and religion, is well, religion. The Cubs are a group of 25 very wealthy young men who are paid millions of dollars to run, catch, hit and throw. If, through some unlikely turn of events, they manage to win the pennant and the World Series, I would not be so bold as to call it an act of God, though fans who are older than me, and who have seen the worst of the Cubs, might beg to differ.
Yet, I think that there is a connection between being a dedicated fan of a baseball team and a dedicated fan of one’s religion — Judaism in this case . Here are three concepts that fans of Judaism can learn from Cubs enthusiasts:
Do not be completely forgiving and uncritical — I attended many games at Wrigley Field in my misspent youth, and I learned that the true Cubs fan, while knowledgeable about the team and its players, is allowed to be critical when they make mistakes. At Wrigley Field, over the years, we’ve seen plenty of mistakes. The same, I believe, is true of Judaism. Its ardent adherents can afford to be critical of mistakes made by its leaders. Never voicing any criticism means that we don’t care.
Don’t just watch the game — play the game! Armchair sports fans sometimes take on the persona of the players of their favorite teams. Frequently, one will hear fans say, after watching a team victory on TV, ‘We won tonight’. We didn’t win anything. The players did. On the other hand, sports fans who have actually participated in the sports that they watch have a far greater understanding of the game and appreciation for what takes place. The same can be said for religion. Ideally, Judaism should be a religion of participation, in which all of its ‘players’, not only rabbis and leaders, can study, engage, and practice.
Make the most of every opportunity — In the Cubs’ current quest for the pennant, they recently traded one of their top prospects to the New York Yankees, in exchange for a star relief pitcher. When asked by reporters as to why the trade was made, given the fact that the pitcher would soon be a free agent after the season, Theo Epstein, the Cubs’ president, echoing the words of Hillel, the famous Talmudic sage (Ethics of the Fathers, 1:14) replied, “If not now, when?” Similarly, in the Jewish calendar, the conclusion of every year marks not only the end, but also a beginning, when we can make the most of the opportunities that we have. If not now, when?
My neighbors, mostly fans of the Yankees and Mets, have assured me that the Cubs will somehow, some way find a way to lose. After all, it’s been that way for more than one hundred years. And while I realize that may, in fact happen — teams with the best record during the regular season frequently have difficulty in the playoffs — in my heart of hearts, I still harbor the hope that someday, somehow, they may win. And that’s something that fans of Judaism can teach Cubs fans. Don’t give up —keep the faith.