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Why Sandy Koufax Didn’t Pitch – A Rosh Hashanah Reader 5770

Posted by Yehuda Goldman
September 15, 2009 - כ"ז אלול ה' תשס"ט
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Excerpts from a series of classes which I gave at Yeshivas Ohr Somayach in Jerusalem.

In Game 1 of the 1964 World Series, Sandy Koufax famously chose to sit out his scheduled start because of Yom Kippur. There is an interesting postscript which I heard from R’ Nota Schiller – Dean, Yeshivas Ohr Somayach in Jerusalem.

Legendary Dodger pitcher Don Drysdale took Sandy’s place that game and got beat up. When Walt Austin, the Dodger manager took the ball from him he asked, “You too couldn’t have been Jewish?”

With that said, I’d like – with the advent of the Jewish New Year upon us – to help shed light on why exactly Sandy sat out that game and how important a time it is for us.

While the story took place on Yom Kippur, both Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur are really connected. In order to truly repent, one has to know whom we have sinned against, what we really did wrong. Only then are we prepared to express our remorse and repent with sincerity and commitment to change.

On Rosh Hashana we are judged on the merits of our deeds. Whether we will live or die. Whether we will be financially stable or insecure. Whether we will be blessed with health, or G-d forbid not. All of this is determined on this special and holy day.

It’s a new year and on this day we receive the tools we need for the year ahead.

However, to just show up at Shul on the big day and pray would not suffice nor is it ideal. In jest, with the price of your seat in Shul you might as well understand what is going on and get your money’s worth.

Elul: Preparing for Our Day in Court

Suppose you had a day in court. Would you go about your business as normal until the day arrived? Of course not. You would go out and hire the services of a good lawyer and begin preparing your defense. You would not leave a stone unturned and do everything in your power to ensure you were ready for the big day.

So too before Rosh Hashana we prepare for one whole month. Elul as it’s known, is the timeframe in which we prepare for the Yom Hadin – Day of Judgment – through introspection, setting goals for ourselves and seeking ways to become closer with G-d. It’s a time when we take a step back and focus not on the material but rather on spiritual. We take a critical and honest look at our relationship with G-d and seek ways to improve.

This can be seen from the word Elul itself. Elul stands for ‘Ani l’dodi v’dodi li’ – I am to my beloved and my beloved is to me. (Song of Songs 6:3)

In essence, Elul is a time when we reach out to G-d and he reaches out to us (L’havdilso to speak).

The Significance of Number 40

Let’s go back to the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai. We receive the Ten Commandments and the next thing we know, we’ve built the Golden Calf. Moshe (Moses) pleads with G-d to save our nation. He ascends Mt. Sinai – on the first day of Elul – and forty days later – on the holiest day of the year, Yom Kippur – descends with the second set of tablets.

Elul – with which begins a forty day period of spiritual calling – is an opportunity for us to grow and become closer with G-d through prayer, repentance and firm resolve and commitment. It begins on the first of the month titled ElulAni l’dodi v’dodi li – and peaks at Yom Kippur.

The number forty is not merely a coincidence and represents purity and cleansing. There are forty days leading up to Yom Kippur as mentioned. Noah’s Ark withstood forty days of rain during the flood. There are forty measures of water in a Mikveh – spiritual bath in which one immerses.

During these times we make it our primary focus and should set our minds on becoming closer to the One Above.

Rosh Hashana

So here we are! Three weeks into Elul and Rosh Hashana is right around the corner. What do we do?

Additionally, some people may have trouble relating to the High Holiday period and connecting to it. This occurs every year. But how do we ensure that we keep the momentum going with us for the rest of the year?

Rabbi Dovid Kaplan explains that in Judaism we are always going three steps forward and two steps back. We must be pointed in the right direction. On the High Holidays, we set the bar as high as possible. During the year we will fall and we will struggle. Yet, the next time we come to Shul on the High Holidays, it will be on a higher level than the year before. Slowly but surely, we raise the bar.


At the conclusion of the Six Day War, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) captured the Western Wall. There were two non-religious soldiers who stood by as a ceremony was held. One of them couldn’t help but notice his fellow soldier break down in tears.

Astounded, he asked, “I don’t understand why you are crying. I understand why the religious soldiers are crying, but you? We don’t feel any connection to this wall.”

“I am crying” said solider, “not because I feel a connection to the wall but. I am crying because I should be crying.

Thus, though we may not be able to tap entirely into the sensation of the High Holidays, just realizing that there lies something important behind it all puts one on the right path. We are all normal. Having been raised in a western society – with all of its influences, we naturally find it harder to connect and realize the real ramifications of our actions. It can inhibit our spiritual quest and prevent us from true personal growth.

So together, I’d like to talk about Rosh Hashana and its true meaning. Perhaps, we’ll even shed some light on the importance of these important days on our calendar. Our goal to come away with a new sense of appreciation.

Rosh Hashana: Its’ Biblical Connection

Who were the first human beings? Adam and Eve. Rosh Hashana commemorates their creation. The morning of erev – or eve – Rosh Hashana, we perform Hataras Nedarimthe annulment of our vows. This allows us to enter the new year refreshed and anew. On this holy day, the books of creation are open. Each and every one if us are judged on our merits and must make our case for life, health and happiness – what we truly need.

We can recall the sacred biblical account of the binding of Isaac. Nearly sacrificed by our forefather Abraham at G-d’s direction, he was saved at the last moment when a ram was found caught in the thorn bushes. Sacrificed in his stead, we recall this story to this day with the blowing of the ram’s horn, the Shofar.

Rabbi Zev Leff explains that Isaac could have died and been sacrificed for the sake of G-d. Yet, G-d showed us that there is something grater then dying Al kidush Hashem – for the sake of G-d – and that is living Al kidush Hashem – for the sake of G-d.

Furthermore, the Shofar represents the meaning of our lives. Its’ properties are mostly calcium and it’s hallow and rather useless object. However, when we take it to our lips and blow into it we add meaning and purpose.

That is how we – as a Jew – relate to the world that we live in. It’s great in size but devoid of purpose and meaning. When we serve a higher calling we transcend this void and shed light in a world of darkness adding meaning and purpose.

When did this event take place? Rosh Hashana. Similarly, the essential Mitzvah of the day is the hearing of the Shofar. It represents the three distinct themes of the day.

  1. The sound of the King’s coronation.
  2. The sobbing of a Jewish heart.
  3. It is an alarm awakening us from our spiritual slumber.

These three themes are the central focus in the prayers we recite on Rosh Hashana and are known as, ‘Malchiyos (Kingship) – Zichronos (Remembrances) – and Shofaros (the Shofar blowing).’

The Anatomy of the Shofar

Let’s begin by explaining the Shofar. The minimum obligation we have is to hear nine Shofar blasts. However, we are unsure regarding the type of sound they must be. There is the Shevarim – the groaning sound. We have the Teruah – the sobbing sound, we have a combination of the two known as Shevarim-Teruah and we have the Tekiah – the straight blast as well.

Due to this uncertainty, we initially perform a total of some thirty blasts comprised of all three sounds followed by a Tekiah to satisfy all doubt. It’s customary to blow the Shofar in a place where the Torah is usually read in order that the merit of the Torah supports us. An interesting side note; in ancient times, the Sages instituted that the Shofar be blown during the Mussaf service due to the Roman guards who were generally present in the morning hours.

As we mentioned before, we recite the special ‘Malchiyos – Zichronos – and Shofaros prayers during the Mussaf service asking G-d to recall the merit of our ancestors. Following this, we sound an additional forty blasts bringing the total to 100 which are completed with the Tekiah Gedolah – the long straight blast.

This year, as Rosh Hashana falls out on Shabbos, the blowing of the Shofar is postponed until the second day. The reason for this is that the Sages were afraid that one would come to carry the Shofar on Shabbos to Shul transgressing the prohibition of ‘Hotzah’ – carrying. Thus, they ruled that when Rosh Hashana falls out on Shabbos we postpone the blowing of the Shofar to the second day.

Malchiyos: Kingship

If I may, I’d like to take example to the concept of kingship from a recent piece of news. As you may be aware, President Obama was recently heckled in a speech before Congress as a Representative from South Carolina called him a liar. He was quickly criticized by members of both parties.

Why? One may disagree with the President but nevertheless he deserves a certain amount of respect.

So too L’havdil with G-d. We may not always understand what exactly is transpiring in our lives. However, we must not forget for a moment that G-d is King.

On Rosh Hashana, we proclaim the G-d is King. In fact, we find that the prayers are mostly praises to G-d as opposed to repentance for our sins. Why is that?

The answer is as follows. Before we ask for forgiveness we must realize to whom we have sinned and the magnitude of our actions. If we were to simply ask to be pardoned it would lack meaning and sincerity. We therefore praise G-d and show some remorse before we formally pray for complete forgiveness. Hence, first comes Rosh Hashana and only then do we have Yom Kippur.

On a similar note; I heard a thought from the Pittsburgher Rebbe which touches on this concept. He asked – why in the Ain Kelokeinu prayer does it begin first, ‘Ain Kelokeinu’ – there is no one like you G-d – and then state ‘Mi Kelokeinu’ – who is like you G-d. It seems that the natural order should be – who is like you G-d and then there is no one like you G-d.

The answer sheds light on this idea of expressing G-d’s kingship and proclaiming his greatness. The first thing we must realize, explains the Rebbe, is that ‘Ain Kelokeinu’ – there is no one like you G-d. Only then, once we realize this can we state ‘Mi Kelokeinu’ – who is like you G-d.

So too, on Rosh Hashana we proclaim G-d’s kingship as a prerequisite for Teshuva – repentance. Once we realize to whom we have sinned and exactly what the ramifications of our deeds are can we begin to formally ask for forgiveness.

The path of return begins from the bottom up. We first take a look at our deeds, examine their ramifications, create a plan for change and then beseech G-d asking for his forgiveness. However, we must come before him with a plan showing we are committed to change and are sincere.

I’ll conclude this section with the following example. Suppose you came up with an invention. You could not just start producing it and wait for the money to roll on in. First you would have to look into getting the idea patented to protect your rights. Secondly, you would have to create a plan laying out what exactly the goal and purpose of your invention is. You would need to research how to best market it and whom you would be targeting.

Unless you were independently wealthy, you would have to go and create a business plan to attract investors. You couldn’t simply say to them “I got this idea. Invest with me. You’ll get rich.”

They will want to see what your plans are and how you plan on going about your whole idea.

So too, we cannot come before G-d empty handed so to speak. We must first make the commitment in our hearts and come up with a sincere and realistic plan on how we will slowly but surely inch forward over the coming year in our service of G-d.

We need not take drastic steps. One small step at a time. As long as we are headed in the right direction we are in the right path. In Judaism we can only be going in one direction at a time. Either up or down.

There is still plenty of time to re-align our arrows and ensure that we are on our way toward a successful Rosh Hashana.

Zichronos: Remembrances

I’d like to share a story with you that illustrates ‘Zichronos’ – the remembrances. The great Napoleon Bonaparte was once walking with his soldiers through a town. He heard a great wailing sound emanating from a building. He sent one his soldiers to see what exactly was going on.

When the soldier returned, he reported that it was the Jews who were sitting on the floor mourning the destruction of their Temple some thousands of years ago. (It was Tisha B’av.) Astonished, Napoleon went to see it for himself. When he saw the sight he proclaimed, “”Any nation that can mourn an event that occurred thousands of years ago will one day return to their land.”

That is what a sobbing Jewish heart is. In Judaism, we plant the seeds of our future on the roots of the past. On Rosh Hashana, while we look back at our ways and examine the merits of our deeds, we – at the same time must – look forward to the New Year with a sense of happiness and resolve.

Repentance, explain the classic Mussar commentaries, is two-fold. There is Charata – regret, and M’kan U’lihaba – commitment to change.

The first step we take is to examine our actions by making an accounting where we take an honest and critical look at our lives. Once we have done so, we make a commitment to change creating a plan that is both effective yet realistic.

The following story took place during the Holocaust. The Jews gathered around the great Klausenberger Rebbe and eagerly awaited with baited breathe for the Pesach Seder to begin.

Wine, a remembrance to the blood in Egypt, they lacked – but they had the blood that had been shed. Maror – bitter herbs, a remembrance to the slave labor, they lacked – but the Nazi brutality had taken its toll on them.

Yet, they managed to produce one Matzah despite the risks and circumstances. However, a Nazi discovered it and broke it to pieces.

The question they all had was who would get to eat the small piece of Matzah they had salvaged. Naturally, they assumed it would be the Rebbe.

The Seder began and they Rebbe motioned toward one young boy to come forward. On that night in Bergen-Belsen it was the young child who ate the small and holy piece of Matzah.

Seeing the astonishment of those present, the Rebbe explained. “In Judaism”, he said, “We plant the seeds of our future on the roots of the past. This boy is the future of our nation. He will live on and carry our torch of tradition.”

A year is coming to an end; a new year is soon beginning. We must not become despondent. We plant the seeds of the New Year on the roots of the past. Our goal is to advance in our service of G-d slowly but surely, one small step, one positive deed at a time.

Shofaros:  The Shofar and Sderot!

Last year, Sderot was being shelled mercilessly. Its residents lived in fear. Under the constant threat of attack, they tried to go on with their lives until the dreaded sirens would wail and rockets wreak havoc upon them.

How would the residents know that an attack was eminent? The siren. When the siren would sound, they knew that they had fifteen seconds to seek cover.

That is what the Shofar is. It’s our wake up call for Teshuva. Ever since last Rosh Hashana we have been going about our routine and living our busy lives. Then one  morning, as we headed for the door after Shul, we heard a loud blast.

And then it hits us! Elul – Teshuva – Rosh Hashana – Yom Kippur! The Shofar is our wake up call. It awakens us from our slumber and causes us to hit the pause button on our lives giving us chance to take stock of where we stand.

We often have moments of self-introspection when we feel that we are lost in such a large and ever-changing world. The Shofar reminds us that there is a G-d on high. It is our call to arms to begin preparing both for our day of judgment and the New Year.


Another well known custom of Rosh Hashana is Tashlich. On the first day of Rosh Hashana we stand before a body of water – preferably one with fish – and recite the special prayer symbolic to the casting away of our sins and misdeeds.

This custom is related to the biblical story we mentioned earlier of the binding of Isaac. When Abraham was headed to sacrifice his son he had to wade through water up to his neck. It’s foolish to think that we can simply empty our pockets of sin. On the contrary, In Judaism, deep introspection and contemplation are the name of the game.

As with the Shofar, when Rosh Hashana falls out on Shabbos we postpone Tashlich to the second day. Unlike the Shofar however, Tashlich can be recited throughout the ten days of repentance and up until Hoshana Rabah – the final sealing of the judgment which is the last of the intermediate days of the festival of Succos.

A bit of insight; the body of water and the fish inside are symbolic. The Talmud compares the Torah to water. Just as a fish cannot live without water, so too, a Jew cannot live without Torah! Furthermore, a fish never closes it eyes in the water. Similarly, G-d never closes his eyes – so to speak – and is always there for us.

I once read a powerful story which beautifully illustrates this point.

There was a man who had a dream. In his dream he saw himself walking down a path. Yet, next to his footprints there was another set! When he would come to a fork in the road, or a treacherous passing however, there was only one set.

He dreamed on. He saw his life pass by him. The good times. The bad times. The times he saw the clear hand of G-d assisting him and the times when he felt alone and forsaken.

Putting the two parts together, he questioned G-d – “I see that when everything on the path was clear you would walk alongside me. However, when times got tough – there was only one set of footprints. Why did you disappear?”

“My child”, G-d replied. “When time were difficult, you’re right. There was only one set of footprints. It was I who carried you through.”

The lesson is clear. When everything is going well, it’s easy for us to see the hand of G-d and praise him so. However, when we encounter difficulty, we suddenly forget who has been there for us until know and seek answers.

We must realize that G-d is always there for us. On Rosh Hashana that’s exactly what we do. We recognize his kingship and proclaim ‘Hashem Echod U’shmo Echod!’ – G-d is one, and his name is one!

Dip the Apple in the Honey!

It’s customary to eat sweet foods on Rosh Hashana to symbolize a sweet new year. The most famous of which is – yes – the apple in the honey.

The question is what is the source and significance of the apple. We start with a biblical source and move on from there. In the Torah, Isaac blesses Jacob “The fragrance of my son is like the fragrance of a field which Hashem has blessed.” (Bereishis 27:27)

The Talmud (Ta’anis 29b Biyar HaGra) explains that this is referring to the apple orchard.

There is more.

In Song of Songs, King Solomon compares the Jewish people to the apple. “As the apple is rare and unique among the trees of the forest, so is my beloved – Israel – among the maidens – nations – of the world.”

The Medrash tells us that the apple tree first sprouts forth the seedling even before the leaves – which will protect it during its growth – sprout fully. On Mount Sinai, we accepted the Torah stating “Na’aseh V’nishma” – we will do and we will hear.

We placed observance of the Torah and its’ commandments first before even contemplating the rational and understanding behind it. We thereby imitated the behavior of an apple tree. Thus, the apple became a symbol of our nation reminding us of that sacred moment at Sinai.

Furthermore, the apple reminds of the slavery in Egypt and our deliverance from bondage. The Medrash relates that the apple served as the fruit of affection between husband and wife during this long period of brutality and oppression.

It offered a glimmer of hope and inspiration toward the future and encouraged them to bring a new generation into this world despite the bleak situation they found themselves in.

Thus, the apple is also the symbol of the Jewish family and home. It is the beacon of optimism toward a brighter future and testament to the tenacity and determination of the Jewish people.

So we have the apple. Why the honey?

Simply put, it is one of the attributes of the Land of Israel which was “flowing with milk and honey.”

Tips for a Successful Judgment

To sum up what we’ve learned let’s recap the method of repentance.

  • We have regret.
  • Then comes introspection.
  • Moving ahead, we take stock of our actions.
  • And create a plan for effective, realistic and long-term change.

Yet, we must remember that change is never easy nor quick. It’s one step at a time albeit in the right direction.

When G-d looks down at us all he wants to see is that we are making the effort and that our arrow is pointed in the right direction. What essentially is Teshuva?

It’s when we realize that our arrow is pointed in the wrong direction and seek the reasons for why that is so. We then implement a plan of corrective change to align our arrow back into the right direction – the path of G-d.

That’s something we can always do but something that we especially focus on during the month of Elul throughout Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. During these times, there is a special sense of spirituality in the air which is very much conducive to Teshuva.

I’d like to close with the following tale, the story behind a new short and inspiring film on Aish.com.

There was a man who was feeling despondent. Rosh Hashana was around the corner yet as he took stock of his actions, nothing had changed. He was the same exact person with all his flaws and problems.

So, what’s a Jew to do?

He goes to his Rabbi and lays out his problem.

The Rabbi asks him, “Do you know how long it takes for the giant Chinese Bamboo to grow as tall as a building?”

“No”, says the man.

“Well”, continues the Rabbi. “The first year the farmer plants the seed and fertilizes it. And nothing happens. The next year he waters it – and nothing happens…for another year…and another year.”

“Then in the fifth year, it shoots up ninety feet in just six weeks!”

“So”, says the Rabbi. “How long does it take for it to grow?”

“Six weeks”, says the man.

“That’s your mistake”, the Rabbi answered.

“If at any time during the five years the farmer would not have watered it, it would have died. What was happening during those five years? A network of roots was forming underground to support the sudden burst of growth.”

“Growth”, the Rabbi continued, “takes perseverance and patience. Every drop of water makes a difference. Every step has an impact. You may not see change right away – but it is happening.”

“With commitment and drive to your goals – and with help from the One Above – you will break through and persevere.”

That’s the message for Rosh Hashana. Just take things one step at a time. With G-d’s help, you’ll get there.

And that’s why Sandy didn’t  pitch on Yom Kippur. For it completes the forty day period representing our drive of becoming closer to G-d through commitment to change and self-introspection.

So while he may have let his team down, he led his nation up as they looked heavenward beseeching mercy, compassion and a favorable judgment.

Best wishes for a K’sivah V’chasima Tova – a happy and sweet new year!

Elul, Rosh Hashanah

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