The Orioles and the Sukkah – October 10, 2014

This is one of the most exciting nights in recent Baltimore history for, after a very long draught, the Orioles are playing in the American League Championship series.  It is not my task tonight to wax rhapsodic about the Orioles or the Kansas City Royals, a scrappy and competitive team from a second tier city like Baltimore, far away from the media centers in New York and Los Angeles. My role tonight is to briefly share with you the answer to the question, “What do the Orioles and Sukkot have in common?”  At first blush, the question may seem rather ridiculous, but I think you will understand as we go along.

The Orioles were predicted to finish no higher than fourth in their division.  At the beginning of the season, prognosticators confidently bet on the Red Sox repeating and the Yankees giving them a run for their money.  No one thought the Orioles would capture the division title, let alone beat the renowned Detroit Tigers and their three Cy Young Award winning pitchers to advance to this point.  Then again, no one expected the Kansas City Royals to sweep the Angels, the team with the best record in baseball.  Sometimes, the forecasters are wrong.  No matter how fine their biometrics, numbers cannot always predict the outcome of a particular ballgame, series, or season.  That is one of the joys of baseball- and of life in general.

The Orioles were known for their defense and their solid play.  They had All Stars in Manny Machado, Matt Wieters, JJ Hardy, and Adam Jones, each among the best at their position in the American League.  None of them were authentic sluggers like Nelson Cruz, whom the Orioles got for a relative steal in the early spring.  With the decline of Chris Davis, Nelson Cruz’s bat gave the Orioles the power they needed to win ball games.  That, however, is just part of the story.  The Orioles starting pitchers, who seemed so dismal in April and May, all of sudden turned into a first class rotation.  Chris Tillman, Bud Norris, Wei Yi Chen, and Miguel Gonzalez dazzled us with their steadiness and hard work, producing one of baseball’s lowest earned run averages in the last three months of the season.  The bullpen, which began the season without a certified closer, performed beyond any reasonable expectation.  They were literally fantastic.  The great surprise was the infield, bolstered by two catchers, Nick Hundley and Caleb Joseph, a second stringer and a rookie, Steve Pierce, a first baseman whom the Orioles released at the beginning of the season, Jonathan Scoop, another rookie, and Ryan Flaherty, a dependable utility player who was known for being all defense and no bat.  These five players filled the gaps left by the injured starters and added a lot of heft to the team.  Without any great stars, including Nelson Cruz whose reputation was so damaged by last year’s steroid scandal, the Orioles magically became our darlings once again and stomped all over the American League East opposition.  They proved this year that an age old truth still has efficacy- the sum is greater than its parts.

What that means is that the Orioles’ success this year is based on the synergy of all the various parts of the Orioles’ system working together, from the front office to the coaching staff to the players.  Each component brings its energy to the whole, creating an inexplicable chemistry that makes the team shine.  The Orioles “clicked” this year because of that synergy, of the combined energy of the systems’ parts.

Just a few days ago, many congregants came up to Cantor Braun and me and said that our Erev Yom Kippur service was the most beautiful they had ever attended.  “What was different?” they asked?  The answer is, “Nothing, everything and everyone just clicked.  Each of us brought something special to that service which created an ineffable chemistry.  You experienced the magic of that synergy.”

Now what does this have to do with Sukkot?  The lulav and etrog, which we have before us, has four components.  The etrog has a strong flavor and fragrance.  It reminds of Jews who learn Torah and do good deeds.  The palm generates a fruit with flavor but no fragrance.  This reminds us of Jews who learn Torah but do not perform good deeds.  The myrtle has fragrance but no flavor.  It reminds us of Jews who do good deeds but are ignorant of Torah.  The willow has neither flavor nor fragrance and reminds us of Jews who neither study Torah nor perform good deeds.  The rabbis tell us that God said, “Bind them together in one bunch and they will make up for each other.”  The sum of the Jewish people is greater than our individual parts.  We need each other to become a coherent whole.  We bring together individual abilities and strengths to create a synergy to make us better together than any of us could be alone.  Just like the Orioles, the Jewish people are greater than the sum of our parts.

May the O’s bring home the pennant and the World Championship this year to Baltimore.

Amen and Shabbat Shalom!

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