October 12, 2007, The Jewish Star
If the 10 days of repentance are a sort of trial period for us to make new resolutions and demonstrate our best behavior, the following 10 days before Hoshana Rabba may be viewed as a more subtle sort of trial period. The heavenly chariot has ascended and the gates have been sealed -- but Hashem is peeking at us through the cracks to see how we've been doing with the spotlight turned off. We've had seasonal mitzvos to fulfill, a Yom Tov to observe, a Chol Hamoed to treat with respect, and, for most of us, plenty of opportunity for family members to test some of our resolutions during extended time in one another's company. Hashem has surely gathered plenty of new material to take into account before putting those books of His back in the vault.
I have to confess that for someone who has just completed an extensive trial with everything on the line, with the verdict still unknown to me, I experienced little emotional connection during the whole process. This is definitely not due to faith in my lawyer's track record, since I had to represent myself, nor due to confidence in the supporting evidence in my favor. I simply feel as if I went through the trial as though I were watching it instead of experiencing it.
I say all this not to attempt to curry favor with the reader by appearing humble and contrite -- such public self-flagellation is generally frowned upon by the Torah, in any case. Rather, it is because I fear that my experience -- or, rather, lack thereof -- is one that is quite common. We know that we are on trial. We really do. But we just...can't...get into it.
The baseball fans among us know that the Mets recently completed what is by some counts the worst collapse in the history of baseball. They squandered what should have been a very comfortable first-place lead by playing incredibly poor and uninspired ball for weeks, and wound up missing the playoffs entirely with a no-show performance on the last day of the season.
I saw most of that last game, which was essentially over shortly after it started. The fans in Shea Stadium appeared shell-shocked after the game. Many fans were just sitting in their seats and crying.
If you think I am exaggerating or being otherwise inappropriate in my comparison, what follows is a quote from the October 1 Daily News article about the game:
"Dr. Judy Kuriansky, a New York clinical psychologist and Columbia University professor, said a big mistake would be for fans to exaggerate the team's failure.
"If their team's losing, they feel like a loser themselves and it can spin them into all kinds of emotional distress," said Kuriansky..."It's important to separate yourself from the team's losing, to not think that you've lost in your own life."
I'm happy to say that despite being a Mets fan for many years, I was almost completely unaffected by the team's failure. Some would say this means I'm not a real fan, but I see it as being a fan with a proper perspective on things. To me, sports is simply a form of entertainment to help me relax and divert my mind from that which is truly serious. Sports helps me serve Hashem by enhancing my physical and mental conditioning.
But the time I devote to sports is limited based on these considerations, and the emotional energy I invest in sports is close to zero. One should be able to play hard and play to win without losing perspective or control over his behavior. I would never cry if I had a bad game, and would certainly never be devastated if some professional team had a bad outcome. Their performance has absolutely no bearing on my personal situation. My first thought when the Mets lost their last game was that I'd spend less time watching the postseason. I didn't see any tragedy in that. My second thought was that it would be interesting to see what happened to the team from there. It's entertainment to me, nothing more.
I suspect that many people in our community reacted far more emotionally to the team's failure. Surely their mood became more bitter, angry, or despondent for some time after the game. In other words, they were emotionally affected by this sporting event.
To a certain degree this may be harmless; I don't mean to criticize fans who are somewhat more passionate than I am. I only wonder if they were able to summon this same passion -- this same genuine passion -- during this critical period of the Jewish year. I wonder if they become similarly emotionally affected by tragedies and travesties in Israel, or even in their own community. If not, then why not? Why are we able to connect to mundane events that have no real bearing in our lives, yet find it so difficult to emotionally connect to that which we know to be the ultimate in importance?
Why can't we cry when we daven? Why don't the tears just pour out of us without our even thinking about it? Why would we give a funny look at someone who cried publicly on Yom Kippur? Why aren't such people giving funny looks at the rest of us for being so stoic?
This is what bothers me as Hashem puts those important books away until next year. I hope He is forgiving of our widespread emotional disconnect and guides us in discovering a true, enduring spiritual connection.