It is a deeply-held, time-honored tradition to rise and sing, “Take me out to the ballgame,” during the middle of the seventh inning at baseball games. In the summer of 2019, a hundred people rose and sang this song in honor of my deceased stepfather, at his memorial service during the final eulogy.
Why? Because proper farewells are important. And this was a fitting melody for him, since he was an avid baseball fan his entire life. My stepdad was a deputy District Attorney, so he liked baseball probably because he liked rules and level playing fields and camaraderie.
In fact he loved baseball so much that he found room in his heart for a love of not one but two teams—two rival teams at that! You see, as a child he was a fan of the Dodgers, but then in early adulthood, work brought him to Northern California, deep in the heart of the San Francisco Giant’s territory. Still loving baseball, and interested in making new friends in his new hometown, he attended many Giants games with his new friends, at first in spite of the home team. But after a few years, he began to get to know the players and eventually, one of his best friends heard him say “Do you think we’ll win the series” —“WE?!?!?!” his friend gasped. He was referring to the San Francisco Giants. The rival team! Not only had he become a local, but he had become a fan of the Giants!
He eventually even got season tickets to the Giants games, which he attended with his friends. At the funeral, orange and white flowers were ordered, and his Giants Jacket was proudly displayed. Baseball represented the glue which bound his life together with his values, his deep friendships, his enthusiasm for life. So, yes we sang a rousing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” to honor his life, and to give all assembled a way to say goodbye to him properly. Because good goodbyes are important.
We should probably not only give honor to those who die, but also to those who leave our lives for other reasons. And, I’m not only talking about bon voyage parties or retirement parties. Not doing so leaves a palpable void.
Single people will agree that the practice whereby one individual never actually breaks up with you but simply stops talking with you, known as GHOSTING, is particularly offensive. Why? Because there’s no closure. No acknowledgement that what happened meant something. That the relationship was had, and it was real, and it was meaningful.
Proper goodbyes are important. even in the case of particularly difficult departures with difficult people. Because EVEN THEN we should acknowledge the relationship and honor that we learned something from the encounter. As the rabbis say in the Mishnah, “Who is wise? He who learns from every person.” (Pirkei Avot 4:1) We can learn from everyone, every experience. At least we should say thank you when the relationship ends.
Do you know what else is important? A good welcome.
Did you know that the national organization of Reform Jews known as the Union for Reform Judaism has a Vice President for Audacious Hospitality That’s right— there is position and a whole department based in New York that is dedicated to making sure that congregations actively and appropriately welcome people into Reform Congregations.
People of every race, nationality, denomination, sexual orientation, gender expression and religion—YES RELIGION— whether you’re a member of the tribe or not— you are welcome in Reform Jewish communities.
The value of a good welcome comes right out of this week’s Torah portion, Vayera, which depicts a GREAT welcome.
As the portion begins, Abraham is recovering in his tent from the self-circumcision he performed in last week’s Torah portion. Then, the Torah tells us: (Gen 18:2-5)
וַיִּשָּׂ֤א עֵינָיו֙ וַיַּ֔רְא וְהִנֵּה֙ שְׁלֹשָׁ֣ה אֲנָשִׁ֔ים נִצָּבִ֖ים עָלָ֑יווַיַּ֗רְא וַיָּ֤רָץ לִקְרָאתָם֙ מִפֶּ֣תַח הָאֹ֔הֶל וַיִּשְׁתַּ֖חוּ אָֽרְצָה׃
Looking up, he saw three men standing near him. As soon as he saw them, he ran from the entrance of the tent to greet them and, bowing to the ground,
וַיֹּאמַ֑ר אֲדֹנָ֗י אִם־נָ֨א מָצָ֤אתִי חֵן֙ בְּעֵינֶ֔יךָ אַל־נָ֥אתַעֲבֹ֖ר מֵעַ֥ל עַבְדֶּֽךָ׃
He said, “My lords, if it please you, do not go on past your servant.
יֻקַּֽח־נָ֣א מְעַט־מַ֔יִם וְרַחֲצ֖וּ רַגְלֵיכֶ֑ם וְהִֽשָּׁעֲנ֖וּ תַּ֥חַתהָעֵֽץ׃
Let a little water be brought; bathe your feet and recline under the tree.
וְאֶקְחָ֨ה פַת־לֶ֜חֶם וְסַעֲד֤וּ לִבְּכֶם֙ אַחַ֣ר תַּעֲבֹ֔רוּכִּֽי־עַל־כֵּ֥ן עֲבַרְתֶּ֖ם עַֽל־עַבְדְּכֶ֑ם וַיֹּ֣אמְר֔וּ כֵּ֥ן תַּעֲשֶׂ֖הכַּאֲשֶׁ֥ר דִּבַּֽרְתָּ׃
And let me fetch a morsel of bread that you may refresh yourselves; then go on…”
And when they accepted, he hasted the food to be prepared for them.
Abraham had every excuse to ignore the passers by, after all he was weak and recovering from a medical procedure and it was a hot day, but instead he rose to welcome the visitors with great gusto, and brought them cakes and meat and fresh milk (nevermind meat AND milk served together).
There it is right there in the Torah that not only are good welcomes are important— but GREAT ones are the most desired— since this one even included a foot bath!
Jewish tradition insists that a proper goodbye and a hearty welcome are important, but what’s most profound is to consider the relationship between the two.
We often read Psalm 121 at funerals. You may know it as Esa Einai. The last verse of that Psalm says, (Psalm 121:8):
יְֽהוָ֗ה יִשְׁמָר־צֵאתְךָ֥ וּבוֹאֶ֑ךָ מֵֽ֝עַתָּ֗ה וְעַד־עוֹלָֽם׃
“Adonai Yishmar tzeit’cha u’voe’cha me’ata v’ad olam.”
“Adonai will guard your going and coming now and forever.”
How appropriate: going and coming…farewells and hellos are related to one another at a funeral. Perhaps this verse is referencing going from this world to the next world?
This concept makes me think of that alternative rock band Semisonic’s lyric which poignantly states, as only a heartfelt song lyric can: “Every new beginning is some other beginnings end."
Oftentimes, we name babies in honor of deceased relatives as is Jewish Ashkenazi tradition. We honor the end of a life with the beginning of a new life all the while praising the Creator of all who brought each into existence. This kind of ceremony can be at once an honorable farewell and a warm hello.
Cue the Lion King’s “The Circle of Life” theme, right? But in all seriousness, the reason that song so resonates with us is because it is so true. The circle of life moves us all. As the poet T.S. Eliot said in his poem, Four Quartets, “What we call the beginning is often the end. And to make an end is to make a beginning. The end is where we start from.”
As we end this past week, may we hold it and honor it as we begin anew. Amen.