Prayer for Opening Day: Baseball in 2020

Image: Batting practice before a spring training game at Las Vegas Ballpark, March 2020. Home of the Las Vegas Aviators. Photo by Ruth Adar.

As is my habit every year, I offer a Prayer for the Beginning of Baseball Season. Major League Baseball has chosen to go ahead with a short season this year, with changes to make play somewhat safer – beginning with the fact that there will be no fans in the stands. Still, some of us worry. Here is a version of my usual prayer for opening day, with an addendum for Covid-19.

Blessed are You, Eternal our God, Ruler of the Universe, who created human beings out of the clay of the earth, breathing into them the breath of Your life. You set within each human being a love of play, a sense of fair play, and a desire for games that will satisfy both the body and the mind. From these human desires You brought forth baseball, a game of bats and balls played upon the diamond. It is an orderly game, as Your creation is orderly, and a mysterious game, as Your creation is mysterious, revealing to its devotees deep truths about Your world.

It is a game subject to times and seasons, and we give thanks for the fact that we are now at the beginning of the season of baseball. Amen.

It is a game subject to rules and statistics, and we give thanks for the Official Baseball Rules as well as their league variations, and also for the many statistics that add to the strategies of managers and the enjoyment of fans. Amen.

May our foes be unable to defeat us. Amen.

Let them be filled with dread at the sight of our bats. Amen.

And when the forces of Light and Dark join upon the diamond field, let our players play uninjured and mighty. Let the crack of the bat and the roar of the crowd fill every ear and every heart, so that the words of the prophet may be fulfilled: Play Ball!

And when this season nears completion, when the dwindling hours of day reflect the dwindling number of teams in post-season play, let our team remain victorious to the last inning, so that we may glorify Your Name with the World Series trophy. Amen.

And in this very challenging year of 5780, keep players, umps, and coaches mindful of safety measures and safe from the ravages of Covid-19. May the consistent use of precautions prevent the infection of their families and friends. Let this game be the restoring balm that it has always been for so many. Bless our play, and give us respite from the wrack of pandemic. May this year’s difficulties raise us all to greater standards of honest play, and to a greater appreciation for the blessings this game brings to us. Amen.

Blessed are You, Eternal our God, who enlivens our hearts with games. Amen.

A rabbinical note: The opening of the new baseball season (Rosh Z’man Beisbol) is a major festival for many American Jews. Discussions on the holiday are recorded in Masekhet Miskhakim (Games) and in Hilkhot Z’man Beisbol (Laws of the Season of Baseball) as well as in HaYachalom HaHakir(The Precious Diamond), a mystical work. The prayer above is from Sefer Greenberg, a book of prayers attributed to Jewish baseball great Hank Greenberg, although those skeptical Wissenschaft yekkies insist that it is likely a pseudepigraphal piece, probably written in about 5768 by a ba’al teshuvah in Detroit, probably a Tigers fan.

The addition “In this very challenging year” is the work of your humble servant, and any error or overreach in it is hers and hers alone.

Tehillim: Psalms from the Heart – New Class Starts 7/9/2020

Image: King David with his harp, mosaic from the Gaza Synagogue, 6th c. CE. (Alexander Siviridov, Shutterstock, all rights reserved.)

The Book of Psalms is a treasury of poetry that expresses the full range of human emotion, from despair to ecstasy. Many traditional translations obscure the richness in the Psalms with flowery or euphemistic language, but the original psalms themselves are muscular, even raw, as they express the deepest truths of the heart.

I would like to study this 2500-year-old collection of human expression with you. Each week we will explore another Psalm in English; I will offer some insights from the Hebrew, and from various commentaries. Students bring their own insights to the mix. No Hebrew is required, although students who read Hebrew are welcome. 

Registrants will receive a Zoom link from me the day before the start of the course.

Tehillim: Psalms from the Heart will meet Thursday, July 9, 2020 thru Thursday, August 20, 2020, from 7:00 PM to 8:00 PM Pacific Time. For more information, and to register, please visit the course’s page in the HAMAQOM | The Place online catalog. Sliding scale for tuition, and financial aid is available.

Prayer for a Change of Heart

Ribbono shel Olam, Ruler of all, my heart is broken.

A disease is ravaging my country,

A virus that seems utterly vicious in its attacks on the body.

Some who get it don’t even know they have it,

And others succumb after weeks of suffering.

This plague does not make all suffer equally.

It has turned a spotlight

On the cruelties in America:

The poor suffer more,

The homeless suffer more,

And people of color are especially hard hit,

Because the other disease, the one we have had for 400 years,

Has turned too many hearts to stone,

And has ruined too many lives to count.

We therefore repent of our sins:

The sin of systemic racism,

The sin of extreme income inequality,

And the sins of selfishness and unbounded ego.

You have told us, through your prophet Isaiah:

“Your hands are stained with crime—

“Wash yourselves clean; Put your evil doings away from My sight. Cease to do evil;

“Learn to do good. Devote yourselves to justice; Aid the wronged. Uphold the rights of the orphan; defend the cause of the widow.” (Isaiah 1:16-17)

O Holy One, we are listening.

We will cease to do evil and learn to do good, so that

Our hearts of stone will turn back into flesh and blood.

For Your sake — for our own sakes — for the sake of the world —

We can do better, with Your help.

We will devote ourselves to justice.

We will not stand for murder.

We will uphold the rights of poor children and their families,

We will give aid to the wronged.

We make this effort in the knowledge

That we are Your hands in this world and

We can be the instruments of Your love.

Bless this effort, O God: give us the wisdom and strength

To own what is wrong and change it to right.

Then those who sowed with tears shall reap in joy.

Blessed is the one who lifts up the fallen,

who heals the sick,

the Love at the heart of the world.

Amen.

Vidui – Because #BlackLivesMatter

Image: Black Lives Matter mural. (Betty Martin / Pixabay)

vidui is a Jewish confession of sin. We tend to associate this form of prayer with Yom Kippur and with the prayers of the dying, although a short vidui is part of the traditional weekday liturgy. A communal vidui includes sins which I may not personally have committed, but which some in my community may have committed. By claiming them as my own sins, I underline that I am responsible not only for myself, but also for elements in our communal life which may have fostered the sin in our members. Some Jewish prayers include acrostics as a hidden message within the prayer. For a vidui, making an acrostic of the entire alphabet is a way of saying that our sins go from aleph to taf, or from A to Z – we confess to an entire library of sin. I offer this vidui for my sins and those of my communities.

For all our sins, may the Holy One who makes forgiveness possible forgive us, pardon us, and make atonement possible.

For the sin of Arrogance, that makes it difficult to see our own failings

For the sin of Brutality, that makes it possible for us to stand by and think, “He must have done something to deserve it”

For the sin of Credulity, in which we have believed “news” from unreliable sources

For the sin of Disregarding facts that were uncomfortable for us

For the sin of Executing those whose offenses did not merit their death, and for standing by as our civil servants carried out those acts

For the sin of allowing unreasoning Fear to dictate our behavior towards others

For the sin of Greed, underpaying for work or over-charging for services

For the sin of baseless Hatred, that demonizes entire groups of other human beings

May the Holy One forgive us, pardon us, and make atonement possible.

For the sin of willful Ignorance, not wanting to know things that are embarrassing to us

For the sin of Jailing massive numbers of people for nonviolent crimes, separated from opportunities to better themselves and their families,

For the sin of Killing the hope of young people who believe that their only futures lie in prison or the grave

For the sin of Laziness about speaking up when we hear racist language

For the sin of Minimizing the pain of others

For the sin of Non-Apologies that failed to take responsibility for harm we have done

For the sin of Omission, when we failed to act upon our principles

For the sin of Presuming on the basis of skin color

May the Holy One forgive us, pardon us, and make atonement possible.

For the sin of Quiescence in the face of the racist behavior of others

For the sin of Racism, in all its myriad forms

For the sin of Self-congratulation for acts of common decency

For the sin of Taking Offense when another points out that our words or actions were racist in effect, if not in intent

For the Unconscious acts which have injured others without our awareness

For the sin of Violence against other human beings

For the sin of using Words in ways that perpetuate racism in any way

For the sin of Xenophobia, fearing and hating those who seem foreign to us

May the Holy One forgive us, pardon us, and make atonement possible.

For the sin of Yakking when we should have been listening

For the sin of Zoning out when we assumed this list wasn’t about us

For all of the sins of commission and omission, all the sins we committed consciously and unconsciously, for those that were simply accidents and those for which we failed to make an apology:

May the Holy One forgive us, pardon us, and make atonement possible.

For it is through true acts of genuine repentance and a sincere desire to change that we will bring change to our nation: the rule of fairness, justice and peace. May our hearts grow, may all wounded souls be healed, and may we live to see the day when the scourge of racism is truly behind us.

Amen.


This is an updated version of a prayer I wrote and published on this blog a few years ago.

A Prayer for Sheltering in Place

Image: The word “prayer” in black over a watercolor. (enterlinedesign/Shutterstock)

Blessed are You, Eternal our God, who instilled in humanity the urge to preserve life.

You gave us adrenaline and other hormones to encourage us to fight or flee when we faced trouble. For early humanity that was enough, and we lived to found civilizations.

You reinforced this urge to survive with your commandments.

You have commanded us concerning the preservation of life: “You shall keep My laws and My rules, by the pursuit of which the human being shall live: I am the Eternal.” (Leviticus 18:5)

You have also commanded us: “I call heaven and earth to witness you today: I have put before you life and death, blessing and curse — therefore choose life!” (Deut. 30:19)

Now we face a time when some of us are called to action, and some are called to inaction. Those who are called to action by their needs and the needs of society face great danger, but it is in the power of the rest of us to reduce that danger, by sheltering in place and staying at home.

Support us in our time of need, O Holy God. Give us the patience to sit quietly. Give us the will to be patient. Grant us the wisdom to listen to the doctors and scientists and to do what they say. Give us a will to life that will frustrate and defeat the disease that threatens us.

And keep alive the hope that the day will come when we need shelter in place no more, when we will be free to rejoice or to mourn with friends and family.

Blessed are You, Eternal our God, Ruler of Time and Place, source of our intellect and our patience.

Prayer in a Time of Uncertainty

Image: A narcissus flower. (Shutterstock, all rights reserved.)

Oh Holy One, I do not know what is going to happen next.

Too much of life seems uncertain to me, and the future is unknown.

I am surrounded by foolish voices: are they foolish, or am I? I fear the worst, and I cannot even imagine what it is.

Help me to discern those things that I can control. Help me to release the rest.

Guide me to mitzvot that I can do. Show me how I can be helpful to others and increase the good in the world.

May I mirror those who do me a kindness, and may I be untroubled by those who wish to do me harm.

Sim shalom, oh Holy One, make peace among us, now and in the coming days.

Amen.

Feeling Scared? Try This.

Image: “Be kind” written on a sidewalk in chalk. (reneebigelow / Pixabay)

Have you noticed how angry many people seem to be right now? Linda and I noticed it driving home from Oakland on a pleasant Sunday morning. People drove their cars as if the cars were weapons and it was war.

Whatever their politics, a lot of people feel the strain of uncertainty, and often they express their fear with anger. Politics is one big angry fight. Here in California we’re feeling climate change very strongly, and people are worried, some are downright frightened. Things we used to depend on seem undependable.

In such times, I keep myself calm with the first line of the serenity prayer:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

Reinhold Niebuhr, American theologian

Much as I’d like to, by myself I can’t fix the climate. I can’t fix Pacific Gas & Electric. I can’t fix Washington. It may be that by voting, in cooperation with others, I may be able to help with those things, but it isn’t Election Day yet. So I have to put those things, for now, on the “accept” list. I don’t like them, but that’s reality.

What do I have the power to change? I can choose to be one tranquil person, one kind person, out there on the road and in the world generally. I can choose that each person with whom I interact leaves our conversation at least no more upset than they were when we began.

  • I can say “no” kindly, when I have to say no.
  • I can say “yes” with grace, when I can say yes.
  • I can maintain a calm and kind presence.
  • I can be a careful driver, neither in a hurry nor too slow.
  • I can focus on the Jewish value of kindness, chesed, and try to bring it to every interaction.

More thoughts about kindness:

The world rests upon three things: Torah, worship, and acts of kindness.

Pirkei Avot 1:2

Acts of kindness never die. They linger in the memory, giving life to other acts in return.

– Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, in From Optimism to Hope

The Torah begins and ends with striking examples of acts of loving kindness. God clothes Adam and Eve and buries Moses personally.

– Rabbi Ismar Schorsch, “Loving Kindness in the Torah

My own behavior is one thing I can control. Kindness is what each of us can bring to the world in times of trouble.

Prayer for the Environment

Image: A field after haying, with cloudy skies above. (Pexels/Pixabay)

And God saw every thing that God had made, and, behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.

Genesis 1: 31

Blessed are You, Adonai our God, who created our world and saw that it was tov me’od, very good.

Blessed are You, Adonai our God, who said, “Let there be light.” You separated the day from night.

Blessed are You, Adonai our God, who separated the heavens from the waters upon the earth: both of them blue and beautiful, clean and bright.

Blessed are You, Adonai our God, who separated the waters of the earth from the dry land, so that grasses, herbs, and fruit trees could grow on the land, and be watered by the rain.

Blessed are You, Adonai our God, who organized the heavens, who set the sun and moon in their appointed places, and set all in harmonious motion. You set in motion the cycle of years and months and days, the orderly seasons which allow all living things to thrive.

Blessed are You, Adonai our God, who filled the water with swarms of living creatures, and set flocks of birds flying in the air. You told them to be fruitful and multiply, and they have done so.

Blessed are You, Adonai our God, who said, “Let the earth bring forth the living creature after its kind, cattle, and creeping thing, and beast of the earth after its kind.” The earth was filled with living things of all descriptions, which live according to the laws of nature. And again You declared that it was good.

Blessed are You, Adonai our God, who has put human beings in the midst of these wonders: the heavens and the earth, the sea and her treasures, the earth and its bounty. Give us wisdom to use your gifts with care, so that all may thrive. Give us intelligence to look for solutions when things fall out of balance. Guide us when we have been unwise; help us when we seek new answers. Give us the courage to admit when something has gone wrong, and to seek a remedy, rather than seek someone to blame.

For all the world is Yours, O God, all the world is of Your making. Blessed are You, Adonai our God, who saw the world and said, “Behold, it is very good.”

Amen.

Yom Kippur and #MeToo Issues

Image: A tree-lined walkway in autumn, with light at the end. (Johannes Plenio /Pixabay)

I’ve written before about some of these issues, in Jewish Resources for Abuse Survivors, but Yom Kippur is approaching and I gather from Twitter that I’m not the only survivor feeling twitchy as the Day of Atonement approaches.

Issue: Loss of Control: Over the years, I’ve realized that one aspect of Yom Kippur is that we give up a lot of our autonomy for a day. For many Jews, that’s a useful thing. We have a list of things to do which fill the 24 hours of the day, and we do them, and there isn’t room for anything else. If we are born Jewish, or have been Jewish for a number of years, there is also the communal expectation that we will do these things weighing upon us. It doesn’t feel like a choice – it’s just what we must do. For a person who has had trauma involving control over their body, some of usual Yom Kippur observances can be triggering.

Reply: If the loss of control is a spiritual barrier, then perhaps some alternative observance would be more effective. If sitting in shul becomes too much, it’s OK to quietly exit and take a walk, even just a walk down the hall. If fasting is likely to trigger problems, make alternative plans. Tell yourself ahead of time that you are free to do whatever you need to do to take care of yourself. You are free.

Issue: Guilt & Shame: For many of us, shame was a big part of the abuse experience, used like a weapon by an abuser. Remind yourself that shame is different than guilt: a guilty party has something for which to atone. The person who feels ashamed is turned inward on themselves in disgust or anger. The Day of Atonement is very much about guilt, and about the cure for guilt, which is teshuvah. Shame, however, doesn’t need teshuvah; the one who suffers from shame is a wounded soul in need of healing.

Reply: Healing from shame is not a one-day project, but it can be done. For Yom Kippur this year, try resolving to be as gentle with yourself as you would be with a five year old who felt horrible. Think about a trusted person to whom you could reach out, even a little bit, with the shame that has bound you. That person might be a therapist, a rabbi, or a good friend. Then in the days after this Yom Kippur, reach out and say, “There is this thing bothering me and I need help.”

Issue: Anger: One year I felt angry during Yom Kippur. We kept reading the Vidui prayers, listing sins, and it suddenly put me in touch with my anger at things that had been done to me. I was furious! I wanted an apology this minute! I could barely sit still. I fumed all the way through the prayers, and at the same time, I knew that wasn’t what I was supposed to be doing, and I felt angry and ashamed about that.

Reply: For some of us, there’s a point at which anger is progress. If you have had trouble feeling angry, then this response to Yom Kippur is really a gift. Follow up on that gift with a call to a therapist, if you have one, or get a therapist, if you don’t. This is an opportunity to get work done. On the other hand, if anger is where you are stuck lately, maybe lists of sins aren’t the healthiest reading right now. Take a walk, get out into nature, exercise, do something else to blow off the energy.

Are there emotions or experiences with Yom Kippur that I haven’t addressed here? Do you have ways you deal with these issues? I encourage you to share what you feel comfortable sharing in the Comments section.

Here is a psalm I keep in my machzor (HHD prayer book):

The Holy One is a haven for the oppressed, a haven in times of trouble.

Those who know Your name trust You, for You do not abandon those who turn to You, O God.

Sing a hymn to the Holy One, who reigns in Zion; declare God’s deeds among the peoples.

For God does not ignore the cry of the afflicted; God who requites bloodshed is mindful of them.

Have mercy on me, O Holy One; see my affliction at the hands of my foes, You who lift me from the gates of death,

so that in the gates of Fair Zion I might tell all Your praise, I might exult in Your deliverance.

Psalms 9: 10-15

What is a Vidui?

Image: A walkway across a dune, to the ocean. (Ulrike Mai / Pixabay)

One of the prayers we will say during the Yom Kippur ritual is called a vidui (vee-DOO-ee). Vidui means “confession,” and that is exactly what it is. It includes an acrostic list of sins.

However, the use of the vidui prayer is not limited to the Yom Kippur service. Such prayers can be very helpful in cheshbon nefesh, taking stock of our lives, as we prepare for the High Holy Days.

The other principal time we say the vidui prayer is near the end of life. The sick person has the opportunity to consider their life in light of Torah values, taking responsibility for their life, for things done and undone, words spoken and unspoken. They may say the prayer alone, or with a rabbi or other support person.

The traditional vidui is a Hebrew prayer, and the English translations of it vary, depending on whether the translator is invested in maintaining the acrostic form. It is always a list of sins, which allows those saying the prayer to reflect on the ways and times they have slipped into those behaviors.

There are also a number of nontraditional vidui variations, such as: