“I f God had to choose His favorite baseball player of all time, who would He pick? Babe Ruth? Ted Williams? Sandy Koufax?”
That was the question Rabbi Beni Krohn, the assistant rabbi at Rinat Yisrael, a Modern Orthodox congregation in Teaneck, N.J., posed to his congregants at the outset of a sermon during the Sukkot holiday.
Having grabbed the attention of his audience, he spoke about the importance of observing mitzvot not only when they provide a spiritual high but at times when they are more challenging, like “when life gets in the way of spiritual pursuits.”
He cited a story originally told by Rabbi Paysach Krohn (no relation) of a religious man in Jerusalem named Shmuel who had not missed praying with a minyan for many years. But one night he realized it was 2:30 a.m. and he had not davened Maariv, the evening service. He rushed to a shul that held services around the clock but found only one other person there, when 10 are required.
Undaunted, Shmuel called a local cab company and asked for eight Jewish drivers to come to the synagogue right away. When the drivers arrived, puzzled, he told them to turn on their meters and that he would pay for the time it took them to make a minyan with him.
After the brief service, when Shmuel offered to pay the drivers, they each refused, and several of them thanked him for the opportunity to take part in a minyan, which he found heartening.
But more heroic than Shmuel’s effort to put together the taxi driver minyan that night, Rabbi Krohn said, was his day-in and day-out consistency in not missing a minyan for many years.
Living a consistent life, one that shows a sincere commitment and puts an emphasis on doing things when you can, not just when they are convenient, is most important, he said.
By this point in the sermon, most congregants realized whom Rabbi Krohn would cite as God’s favorite player: Cal Ripken Jr., the Hall of Fame Baltimore Orioles shortstop who played in 2,632 straight regular season games, more than 16 seasons, without missing even one game.
His example should be a model for each of us, the rabbi said — brave words in a New York area synagogue during the Orioles-Yankees playoff and in a congregation whose founding and senior rabbi, Yosef Adler, is a devoted Yankee fan known to make occasional reference to the team in his sermons.