Sunday, January 13, 2013

Me in the Minyan? Prayer & Baseball

In my wanderings and travels I always like to peruse people's bookshelves - perhaps a lost art with the trending rise of kindles and e-books.  I recently came across Pray Ball! The Spiritual Insights of a Jewish Sports Fan by Rabbi James Gordon and it sparked my interest in others ways to approach the teaching of tefilla.  He describes his creative outreach approach to managing his synagogues demand to preserve the daily minyan: the Take Me Out to the Minyan incentive program.

In the first chapter, Gordon makes his ideological connection between davening and baseball:
Many parallels exist between a minyan and baseball. Each activity demands a basic number of participants. According to the American League, which follows the Designated Hitter's rule, ten players are needed. A minyan requires a minimum of ten Jewish men. In both baseball and a minyan, each participant individually plays an important role. However, to be effective in either activity, all participants mus participate as a group and give their maximum "team effort".  Similar to praying (davening) and playing baseball, the more spirited the group, usually the more successful the group. Finally, in a best-of-both worlds scenario, minyan and baseball become one and the same when - as in Oriole Park at Camden Yards in Baltimore and the New York's Shea Stadium - there is, I have heard, a daily minyan during the seventh inning stretch in one of the concession room
The book is filled more with general Jewish wisdom mixed with his affection for sports (especially Chicago teams) than tips for tefilla, but I think Gordon's opening points touches on the core issues that is often neglected to be discussed/emphasized to young people - the present tension between the individual needs/desires and the group. He cites God's assurance to Abraham in Genesis (to be numerous as "stars of the heaven" and "the sand on the seashore") and the movie Field of Dreams to drive home this point. He concludes with the following:
Our Sages teach that these two analogies are symbolic of the importance of individuality as wells our connection to the community.  Like the stars, we as individuals must strive to succeed and shine bright. Like the sand on the seashore, we must be cohesive and work together as a community. 
The importance of striving to be like stars and sand is extremely applicable to both baseball and davening.  When we play baseball, a sport played sometimes on sand and at times under the stars, it is important for each individual to try his hardest to achieve greatness as both a hitter and fielder.  It is even more critical  however, for him to bond with his teammates in order to become a team player. Ultimately  this is the only way to succeed.   
When we pray, as individuals, we must each focus and daven with all our might. However, our Sages still teach us that the highest level of prayers is achieved only when we gather together as community with a minyan

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