Rosh Hashanah 5779 – Locked in at Nationals’ Stadium

September 20, 2018

A couple of months ago my family and I became US citizens, Baruch Hashem. It was an incredible experience for us and we are so happy and blessed to be part of this great nation. We are thankful that this country opened its doors to welcome us. Now that I am an American rabbi, I feel entitled to teach about baseball in my sermons.

In mid-August I was invited together with 300 rabbis to attend the annual Rabbinical Symposium organized by AIPAC. Rabbis from all over the country come to DC and we study together.

Usually, it is on Tuesday night and Wednesday. Tuesday night dinner takes place in a very exciting venue like the Kennedy Center, the Library of Congress or the National Archives building. This year, the dinner took place at the Nats stadium.

Aipac arranged for the rabbis to go into the batting cages where the players warm up, to walk onto the field, to visit bullpen, and then a great dinner. Some rabbis took a tour before the dinner, and some others, including me, took a tour after the dinner.

It was awesome being in the locker rooms, in the press room, in the gym, and walking out onto the field like a real player. Even though the stadium was empty, because it was not a game night, it was an amazing experience. All this happened close to 10 PM at night.

Given the fact that the tour guide told us that the next game would take place on Friday, we were able to visit many places that usually are not open to the public.

The last stop was the field. A friend, teacher and mentor of mine, Rabbi Manes Kogan and I lingered to take some extra pictures, especially of the sign that says Nationals Park, where the umpire usually stands and makes the calls.

Up to this point, sounds like a good story right? What comes next I believe is really unique, and I have not heard anything like this before.

We finished taking the pictures and suddenly we realized the group had left and we were alone on the field. I mean alone. First thing I thought was… well nobody is here it is my opportunity to run around the field!!! But I saw the last of the rabbis exiting through a door, so I rushed and knocked on that door which was already locked. Luckily for us he heard us and opened the door and we were out of the field area. Not luckily for our helper, because other doors locked and the rest of group disappeared. So now there were not only 2 rabbis locked in but besides Manes and me, Rabbi Steven Kane was with us too…

Locked in the stadium. “Let’s try the elevator I said”. Good idea… Maybe if we get locked in there… that’s the end…

Anyway, we made it to the first floor. That was not an easy elevator ride, to be honest. In any case, we started looking for the group, and the stadium was empty… This is like the wilderness and we had no idea where the exit was.

The AIPAC bus was leaving. (Who cares, there is UBER.)  We started walking looking for an open gate and I called Rabbi Ari Sunshine to tell him we were locked in. Meanwhile I started screaming HELP, WE need HELP and my voice echoed throughout the whole stadium. “Help, help”

“Where are you?” Ari asked me.

“Locked in the stadium, trying to find the exit.”

“This must be one of your jokes, Fabian.”

“No, please HELP!!!” Help help help

“OK” said Ari, “do not panic, go to home plate”.

“Hahahaha do you think I know where home base is?” If it was soccer I would know the field, but asking me to go to home plate is like asking me about a road in KualaLampur…

Help!!! We need help, help, help

At that point I remembered what the tour guide told us, that the next game was Friday… We were 3 days away I thought, not bad…

At that moment, my brain could not do a better thing than starting to bring to life pictures of my family. I couldn’t stop thinking of them.

After ten minutes of fruitless search for an exit, I started to think that we were going to sleep in the stadium. How crazy is it to get locked in, in a place with a capacity for 41,313 spectators and hundreds of staff members and maintenance workers?

After twenty minutes of wandering in the Nats park, and while the lights started to dim, a security guard showed up and said: “what are you doing here?”

“We are not watching a game” I said. “There is no player called Help. We need to find the exit”.

“Oh that’s easy. See that sign go to the right, and then through the doors, then turn left…”

“No, no, no” I said, “we are walking together and you take me to the exit”…

Well, here I am, out of  Nationals Park and making a sermon for Rosh Hashana out of it. Because, isn’t it the story of our lives being locked in and trying to find the exit?

Isn’t it the reason why we are here today? Trying to find the exit to our mundane worlds and get into a spiritual moment where we can elevate ourselves?

Most of us have stories when we were looking for guidance, looking for the exit and we asked for help.

And we are here today, the first day of the year to ask for help. To exit the old year and find the right keys that open the gates to the new year.

There is a story in the Talmud (Taanit 29A) that goes like this: When the Temple was destroyed for the first time, many groups of young priests gathered together with the Temple keys in their hands,  they ascended to the roof of the Sanctuary and said before God: “Master of the Universe, since we did not merit to be faithful treasurers, and the Temple is being destroyed, let the Temple keys be handed to You”. And they threw them upward, and a kind of palm of a hand emerged and received the keys from them.”

We are here to find the keys that open the gates because we all are locked in.

Some people is in this sanctuary are locked in old stories. Some others are locked in, in stories that do not belong to them.

Some people here are locked in their own distress by not enjoying the blessing that belong to them.

Some people here are locked in with addictions, and some of them do not know how to ask for help.

In different ways and capacities, we came here to find the exit or maybe to recover the keys.

I invite you for a minute to think of those who offered their keys to unlock the doors of your confinement.

I invite you to pause for some seconds and think: who was there to help you? Who was next to you when you most needed it?

Whom did YOU lock in?

Who was ready to assist you in order to find the way out to your problem?

Who locked YOU in?

Who has the keys? Where are the keys?

Another beautiful story of the Talmud (Baba Metzia 59 A) tells us: Rabbi Elazar says: Since the day the Temple was destroyed the gates of prayer were locked, and prayer is not accepted as it once was. Yet, despite the fact that the gates of prayer were locked with the destruction of the Temple, the gates of tears were not locked, and one who cries before God may rest assured that his prayers will be answered.

We all gather here today to listen to the broken sounds of the shofar.

The shofar cries with us asking God to find us the exit because we all know we are locked in.

In today’s reading we see Hagar locked in, in her impossibility to see a better future. She is determined not to find a way out.

In tomorrow’s reading, Abraham was locked in, in his faith. He could not see the consequences of sacrificing his son.

Both realize that at the end of the day the exit from confinement, the way out from captivity comes from Hashem.

From the stories of the Tanach one of the most beautiful is the conquest of Jericho.

The city was walled. People inside were locked in. How were the Jews able to open those gates? How did they break the walls of confinement? Blowing the shofar.

When we hear the shofar we are asking for help.

This is the same thing I did when I was locked in the Stadium.

From the story I told you, the most important part I want to highlight today is the end of it.

The security guard wanted to give me directions in order to find the exit.

I told him: “No way. You come with me”.

Dear friends,

A new year brings you the opportunity to find the exit, but most important, it brings the possibility to take someone by his or her arm and take them to the exit.

We do not want to hear directions… Most of us need someone to hold our hand and take us to the exit. We need someone to open our eyes and show us we are not locked in.

Think of the moments someone took you by the hand and walked with you.

In Hebrew, the word for confinement  is sgirah. With the exact same letters of that word we make the word girsah, a version. A way to see reality.

Dear friends, being “locked in” is just a version of our reality. I was not locked in in the Stadium. The reality was I did not know where the exit was…

We are not locked in in our stories, that is just a version of who we are. We just need the help.

Do not miss the opportunity to ask for help. Do not miss the opportunity to be helper.

Don’t let the version that says you are locked in, be the only possible reality.

This year, be a better version of yourself.

This year always remember the line from the Psalms that says: I lift my eyes to the mountain. From where will my help come?

My help comes from Hashem maker of Heaven and Earth.

May we all find help, may we all find the right keys for the right doors, may we all be inscribed in the Book of Life.

Shana Tova.