August 30, 2016
I thought it would be interesting to re-post the text from my September 9th, 2015 Chapel Presentation last year. I’ve been studying Yom Teruah – the “Day of Trumpets” also know as Rosh Hashanah (the “Head of the Year”).
I’ve found some very interesting connections lately. First: on Yom Teruah, 1932, Babe Ruth “Called His Shot” in that famous incident in Game Three of the World Series at Wrigley Field. My belief is that the Bambino’s “Shot” was a sign that an 84 year curse was being laid on the Cubs (because of their disrespect to him). That 84 year curse will officially end this year, October 3rd, 2016 – when the Cubs begin their run to post-season “glory”: this year’s World Championship.
A second connection: On Yom Teruah in 1948, the Cleveland Indians beat the Boston Red Sox (at Fenway) to win the pennant in a one-game play-off. They went on to beat the Boston Braves in the World Series. That broke a 28-year curse placed on Cleveland since they last won in 1920. The Indians were cursed because they pridefully wore uniforms that said “World Champions” in 1921 (just like the curse on the New York Giants for doing the same thing after the 1905 Series). Three other sources of blessing for the Indians: blessing for the fact that they led the way to breaking “The Color Line” in the American League, signing Larry Doby in 1947 and one of the greatest pitchers of all time, Satchel Paige, in 1948. They were also blessed because their manager was the half-Jewish Lou Boudreau. But their greatest source of blessing was because they had hired, at the beginning of 1948, a fella named Hank Greenberg as their General Manager.
The Detroit Tigers had a problem – a SERIOUS problem. It was 1934… and, for the first time in 25 years, the hometown baseball team had a chance to win the American League pennant and to play in the World Series and – who knows? Their first World Championship, maybe? It was a rough time in America, in 1934. It was at the height of the Great Depression. Even in relatively well-off Detroit, home of the American automobile business, times were lean. People looked to their baseball team for some relief from their day-to-day misery. The NFL was literally in its infancy; the NBA was years away. The World Series was bigger than the Super Bowl – much bigger.
The Tigers finally looked like they had a chance in the American League for the first time since Ty Cobb led them to a pennant in 1909, 25 long years ago. The Yankees were still a presence in the league, with Lou Gehrig in his prime. But the Bambino was on his last legs – Babe Ruth was in his last season with New York. The Philadelphia A’s had also been a dominant team in the AL for years, but Connie Mack, their great manager, was breaking up his powerhouse to pay the bills. The defending AL Champions were the Washington Senators, but they had dropped back to their usual position deep in the standings. Detroit was rising as the newest power on the strength of their pitching, their catcher and manager, and one of the greatest infields in the history of the game. On the mound the Tigers had Schoolboy Rowe, Tommy Bridges, and young underhand specialist Elden Auker. The third baseman was the talented Marv Owen. At short was top notch veteran Billy Rogell. At second base, in the prime of his career, they had future Hall-of-Famer Charlie Gehringer. Dubbed “The Mechanical Man” by Yankees pitcher Lefty Gomez (“You wind him up in the spring and just let him go!”) Charlie was one of the most consistent players ever. He started the first six All-Star Games for the American League.
In the outfield, they had traded for 1933 World Series star Goose Goslin. And, the player-manager, holding the whole team together, the much-loved Mickey Cochrane. “Black Mike”, as he was called because of his “black” moods when he lost, learned to manage from his mentor when he played in Philadelphia with the A’s – Connie Mack. The Tigers were greatly benefitted by getting him when Mr. Mack had to break up his dynasty. But, their best young player was first baseman Hank Greenberg. In 1934 he was 23 years old, in his first full season as a starter. At 6’ 3” 210 lbs, he was an imposing presence on the field and, especially, at bat. He had a knack for driving in runs. That year, he would lead the league with 63 doubles and had 139 RBI’s. In terms of consistency, he is second only to Lou Gehrig all-time for average RBI’s per season. He was the Tigers clean-up hitter, an essential cog in their drive for the pennant, the first ray of hope after 25 years of disappointments. And he was the problem – a big guy with a big problem.
What was it? Well, it seems that Hank Greenberg was Jewish. OK – that had been a problem since he started playing professional ball. Anti-Semitism was not only alive and well, but it was rising at a fevered pitch in the world of 1934. The shadow of the coming Holocaust was deepening in Europe, especially since the Nazi Party had taken over in Germany, led by the fanatical Adolf Hitler. But that wasn’t the only place – Anti-Semitism had raised its ugly head in America, too. In his own area of Detroit, a popular leader named Father Coughlin was using Anti-Semitism to start a fascist-style political movement in America. Greenberg would be called every name in the book – and then some – by opposing players, coaches, and fans. That’s why, when Jackie Robinson broke into Major League baseball as the first African American in 1947, Hank Greenberg, then playing for the Pittsburgh Pirates, stood up for him and took a public stand of support. He, of all players, had some idea of what Number 42 was going through.
So he was Jewish – so what? The problem was that the Jewish High Holy Days were coming up. The first was Rosh Hashanah, the secular Jewish New Year. You see, the Jews have a religious calendar and a secular calendar. The religious New Year starts on the first of the month of Nisan – in the spring, in late March or early April. The 14th of Nisan was the first Jewish holiday: Passover. Then, they celebrated the Days of Unleavened Bread, The Feast of Firstfruits, and the Feast of Weeks. In the fall, they celebrated Rosh Hashanah, Yom Teruah, the Feast of Trumpets, then Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, then, finally, the Feast of Booths or Ingathering.
What do the Scriptures say about Yom Teruah – literally, “The day of shouting or making a noise”, also known as the Feast of Trumpets? Not much, really. In Leviticus 23: 23 – 25, we read:
23 And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 24 “Speak to the people of Israel, saying, In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you shall observe a day of solemn rest, a memorial proclaimed with blast of trumpets, a holy convocation. 25 You shall not do any ordinary work, and you shall present a food offering to the Lord.”
That’s it – basically just blowing trumpets and a food offering. It was a special trumpet, made of a ram’s horn, called a shofar. It’s called Rosh Hashanah, which means “head of the year” which can be translated as the Jewish New Year. But, as you can see from Leviticus, God told them to celebrate it in the seventh month – that would be the religious calendar. God told the Jews to celebrate the 1st of Nisan as the beginning, not the 1st of Tishrei, Rosh Hashanah. That’s why there are two calendars.
Now, what’s different between our Gregorian calendar and the Jewish calendar? We call our units “months” because they’re supposed to follow the moon’s cycles, but don’t… exactly. The Jewish calendar strictly follows the moon. That’s why the Jews actually designate two days for Rosh Hashanah, not one. That’s because the secular New Year starts not at any specified time, but when the local rabbi sees the first sliver of the moon appear in the sky. When the rabbi declares that he has seen it, the New Year can officially begin. According to commentators of the Talmud, Rosh Hashanah commemorates the creation of man. The Mishnah refers to Rosh Hashanah as the Day of Judgment. The overarching theme of the prayers and of the holiday is the coronation of God as King of the universe. A Jewish day also runs from sunset to sunset.
Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, is 9 to 10 days later, depending on the exact timing of the moon on Rosh Hashanah. On the Jewish calendar, it’s on the 10th of Tishrei. The days between the two are the highest, most sacred holy days of the Jewish year. Observant Jews will honor God by not working on Yom Teruah AND Yom Kippur. And that was Greenberg’s dilemma: should he play baseball on the Highest of High Holy days? Now – Hank himself was not especially observant – he did not, for example, stay kosher by eating the proscribed diet in the Bible, like Phillies player Morrie Arnovitch, who stayed kosher his entire life. He was concerned for two reasons: 1) because his parents were very observant Jews, and they didn’t want him “working” on either day; and, 2) the whole world was watching, and Hank knew it. It didn’t matter as much in his rookie year, 1933 – the Tigers were not in the pennant race. But now they depended on him. Most fans didn’t understand why he wouldn’t play – it was his job to play, religious holiday or not. Catholic players played on Good Friday and Easter – why wouldn’t he? And, not only would he let his fans down, but he was letting the team owner down, who was paying him to play, the manager down, who needed him in the line-up, but (worst of all), he was letting his teammates down.
Finally, after consulting his rabbi, he decided to play on Rosh Hashanah – after all, it was the Feast of Trumpets, a time of celebration. His rabbi found some evidence that games involving balls were played in Jerusalem on Yom Teruah – so he gave Hank the “green” light to play on that day. So, on September 10th, 1934, Greenberg was in the Tiger’s line-up – and they won, 2-1 over the Boston Red Sox. But not only did Hank play, but he hit a home run in the seventh to tie it up, and a walk-off home run in the 9th to put the game away for Detroit. A banner headline the next day in the Detroit Free Press was “Happy New Year” in Hebrew!
Before we go on to Yom Kippur, let’s examine Yom Teruah. The biggest custom is the blowing of the Shofar, the ram’s horn trumpet. Rabbi Saadiah Gaon, writing more than a thousand years ago, offers ten reasons for this commandment:
- God completed Creation on Rosh Hashanah, establishing His sovereignty over the Universe. We blow the shofar as a renewal God’s coronation as King.
- Since Rosh Hashanah is the beginning of the Ten Days of Repentance, we blow the shofar so that its cries will awaken us to repent.
- The shofar was blown at Sinai when the Torah was received.
- The blasts of the Shofar are compared to the exhortations of the Prophets; on Rosh Hashanah we are reminded of the importance of their words.
- The broken blasts, shevarim, remind us of the destroyed Temple.
- Abraham displayed incredible zeal to do the will of God, even when it meant sacrificing his son, Isaac. In the end, a ram was sacrificed in his stead. The ram’s horn reminds us of Abraham’s readiness to perform God’s will.
- The powerful sounds of the shofar stir our hearts will feelings of awe towards God.
- The intense blasts help us recognize the solemnity of the day.
- The ingathering of Jews into the Land of Israel during Messianic times will be heralded by the blasts of the shofar.
- The resurrection of the dead in Messianic times will also be heralded by the shofar sounds.
However, Yom Kippur was a different matter. It is considered by Jewish people to be the most holy of the holy days. In the descriptions in the Bible, they are told that they must “afflict their souls” or “afflict yourselves”. In Leviticus 23, they are told:
26 And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 27 “Now on the tenth day of this seventh month is the Day of Atonement. It shall be for you a time of holy convocation, and you shall afflict yourselves and present a food offering to the Lord. 28 And you shall not do any work on that very day, for it is a Day of Atonement, to make atonement for you before the Lord your God. 29 For whoever is not afflicted on that very day shall be cut off from his people. 30 And whoever does any work on that very day, that person I will destroy from among his people. 31 You shall not do any work. It is a statute forever throughout your generations in all your dwelling places. 32 It shall be to you a Sabbath of solemn rest, and you shall afflict yourselves. On the ninth day of the month beginning at evening, from evening to evening shall you keep your Sabbath.”
Wow – it sounds much more serious than Rosh Hashanah. The command “You shall not do any work” is repeated and the death penalty is commanded for those who do not observe it. There was no fudging room here – he could not play on Yom Kippur. Even if it was a game against the hated, second-place Yankees (which is exactly what it was), there was no way Greenberg would violate what was, to him, the clear Word of God. He would not play on Yom Kippur, and that was final.
And he kept his word. He came to the ballpark after having attended services earlier in the day, but he did not play. Even when his team was losing, he was tempted to change into his uniform, but he didn’t. Greenberg never played a single inning on Yom Kippur.
Later, he was never as serious about his faith as his parents had been. But, because he took a public stand to honor the Lord, I believe the Lord blessed him. The future Hall of Famer always played on Rosh Hashanah after that, and marked the day with some of his biggest days at the plate. The raw numbers from Greenberg’s 10 Rosh Hashanah games are impressive: 14 hits in 40 at-bats, adding up to a .350 batting average. He hit six homers, scored 10 runs, and accumulated 14 runs batted in. His teams won seven of the ten games.
The Lord also blessed him in his career in other ways. The Tigers won the AL pennant in 1934, but lost the World Series in 7 games to the Gashouse Gang – the nickname given to the colorful National League winners, the St. Louis Cardinals. But in 1935, the Tigers finished first in the AL again and – this time – defeated the Cubs in 6 games to become World Champions for the first time. Greenberg was injured seriously in Game 2, so, providentially, even though a game was played on Yom Kippur, he was physically unable to take part. He lost most of the 1936 season, recovering from the injury, but he was back to All Star form in 1937. In my room at school, I have a picture of seven of the greatest hitters of all time at the 1937 All Star Game in Washington. Where is Hank Greenberg? That’s right – he’s the seventh guy lined up in the picture, the Biblical number of completion. He also looks a lot taller than the other guys, even though he wasn’t THAT much bigger than they were. Lou Gehrig, at the beginning of the line on the left, was 6’0”, 200 lbs. (Greenberg was 6’3” and 210), then there’s Joe Cronin, Bill Dickey (at 6’1”), Joe DiMaggio, fellow Tiger Charlie Gehringer, Jimmie Foxx (also at 6 feet) and Hank. It’s an optical illusion, but – again, providentially – it makes him look like a giant compared to the others.
In 1938, Greenberg had his greatest season. He hit 58 home runs, approaching Babe Ruth’s record of 60, but not making it. At least, that is if you count a standard season. But, if you count home runs another way, something else stands out. Every seven years on the Jewish calendar, God designated a year be spent where the people did NOT till their fields, when debts were released, and when slaves were freed. These years are referred to as “Shemitahs”. Every seventh seven is then followed by a “Jubilee” year, every fifty years, which was a “Super-Shemitah”, during which time land was supposed to revert back to its original owner. These times can be times of blessing on Jewish people, or times of judgment. During the Shemitah year of September 5th, 1937 to September 25th 1938, the Lord abundantly blessed Hank Greenberg. During that Shemitah season, he hit 64 homes runs over the course of 171 games. Truly an amazing accomplishment!
Greenberg lost 4 ½ years of his career to the military. After being drafted into the Army in 1941, he re-enlisted when Pearl Harbor occurred. He didn’t come back until the middle of 1945 (the next Shemitah season). Then, he returned to play a key role in the Tigers’ 1945 World Championship, hitting a grand slam to clinch the pennant, then leading them as a key player in the World Series. After his 1947 season in Pittsburgh, he retired and went into the Cleveland Indians’ front office. He died at the age of 75 in 1986.
So, what’s the point? There are a number of conclusions that can be reached, but here are two: One, just as the Lord blessed Erik Liddell for honoring Him publically in the 1924 Olympics by not running on Sunday (in a Shemitah year, where the Lord also blessed that Jewish sprinter, Harold Abrams), He blessed Hank Greenberg for publically honoring Him by not playing on Yom Kippur. “I will honor him who honors Me.”
Two: Rosh Hashanah was and is a day of celebration. As Greenberg honored the Lord by NOT playing on the Day of Atonement, he also honored God by playing joyfully on Yom Teruah – a day, not of mourning, but of praising and rejoicing!
AND – these Jewish holidays are meant as signs, to be fulfilled by Jesus. The Passover was fulfilled at the bloody death of Jesus on the cross – the just for the unjust – so our sins can be forgiven. The Days of Unleavened Bread were fulfilled by the three days Jesus stayed buried in the tomb. The Feast of First fruits celebrates the most important single event in the history of the world – the bodily Resurrection of Our Savior from the dead, where he pronounced final victory over sin and death! And, the last spring feast – Shauvot, the Feast of Weeks, also known as Pentecost, which was fulfilled when the Holy Spirit was poured out on the followers of Jesus and the church was born.
OK – those are the Spring feasts. But have the Fall Feasts also been fulfilled. No, not yet… but they will be some day. And they give us hope that, despite this sin-sick world, Elohim is still in control. They WILL be fulfilled! The first one is Rosh Hashanah, or Yom Teruah, the Day of Trumpets. That will be fulfilled – only the Lord knows exactly when! – when the trump of God sounds at the Rapture – the taking of the Bride of Christ to the Marriage Supper of the Lamb. Like Hank Greenberg celebrated on that day, one day (soon!) so with those of us who “love His appearing”! Yom Kippur will be fulfilled during the Great Tribulation, a profoundly sad time of Judgment on the earth. And, last of all, Sukkot, or the Feat of Tabernacles, will be gloriously fulfilled in the Millennial Kingdom, with Jesus reigning for a thousand years!
Today, a tourist who goes to the Yochanan Ben Zakai Synagogue in Jerusalem will notice something very unusual. High up, on an inaccessible glass shelf, is a flask of oil and a shofar. The two items look incongruous – too high to be viewed by the public and unreachable for practical use. Yet, they serve an important purpose.
The special oil and shofar are waiting for the arrival of the Messiah, where they will play a role in greeting and anointing him, just as every Jewish king in history has been greeted – with the sound of the shofar and doused in oil sanctified for that purpose (1 Kings 1).
Come soon, Lord Jesus!
One last note of Providential Joy: while I was preparing this devotional for chapel on September 9th, I “happened” to run across an interesting artifact that someone had posted three years ago on Youtube. It was a recording of the earliest known radio broadcast of a baseball game. There’s only one “earliest” broadcast of a complete Major League game. Would you want to guess which game it was? Yes – there I was, on my birthday, September 7th, working on this devotional (that I had planned to do weeks ago), listening to the earliest extant radio broadcast of a Major League baseball game. It was the Tigers-Yankees Game from September 20, 1934. Of the eight Major League games played on that day, this is the only one that “happened” to get recorded, at a time when such a thing would have been very difficult to do. The September 20th – not the 19th; not the 21st – game was the first game Hank Greenberg played since sitting out Yom Kippur to publically honor Yahweh. The announcer mentions that when he batted at the 19:30 minute mark of the broadcast. And, later in the game, the Yankees botch a run-down – both runners get to bases safely. It ended when Yankee center fielder, one Ben Chapman, tagged Greenberg, and the ball popped out of his glove, allowing the runner to return safely to base. Chapman was then ejected from the game – the announcer said it was “for arguing with the umpire”, but I believe it was probably more than that. Do you recognize the name of Ben Chapman? That’s right – he later was the manager of the Phillies in 1947. The year Jackie Robinson broke in… the guy who called him vicious names, including a frequent use of the n-word… the one who took a famous picture with Jackie Robinson, where the Dodgers’ rookie is holding onto a bat Ben Chapman has in his hands. Ben Chapman was a nasty racist, but he was also known to be Anti-Semitic to a poisonous degree. No doubt he got ejected from that game in 1934 for the things he must have said to that “Jew-boy” Greenberg. I don’t have any proof, other than reputation, but I’m sure that he didn’t miss an opportunity for some hate speech when Greenberg probably had a part in knocking the ball out of Chapman’s glove. Sorry, Ben – it’s still true, what Yahweh said to Abraham, and to his seed – “I will bless them who bless you; I will curse them who curse you.”