History happened earlier this month, and it happened in the Bronx. During the third inning of a rainy baseball game, Derek Jeter, the Yankees captain and All Star shortstop, broke the “Iron Man” Lou Gehrig’s all-time hit record as a Yankee. Jeter’s fellow players each congratulated him, and the large crowd rose to their feet and gave Jeter a four-minute standing ovation. Four minutes of clapping. That is 240 seconds – a long time to clap. He deserved it.
As I read the news in the paper the next morning, a Saturday, and watched the recap on television after Shabbat, I got emotional. Why was I holding back tears? I am not a huge Yankees fan, (I am not a Mets fan either). I have no affinity with Derek Jeter. Why am I farklempt? Why four minutes of ovation and equal expressions of tears from the Bronx Bomber fans?
I realized that Jeter’s hits were meaningless to me. What captured me was his integrity.
I enjoy sports. Sadly though, there seems to be more reporting about steroid use, drug abuse, drunk driving, inappropriate treatment of women, and gambling – just to name a few – among players than there are accomplishments. But Derek Jeter is different. He is about doing good on and off the field. No reports of abuse or bad behavior – he’s just a good, wholesome athlete. His style boils down to one word: integrity.
If I were to sum up this year in one word, I think integrity would be it – in particular, the lack of integrity found in leaders and common folk. From the economic meltdown to Bernard Madoff, from Wall Street bonuses to the heckling of a president, from released terrorists to extramarital affairs, these scandals have created a swirl of negativity where we now find ourselves thirsty for integrity in our leadership and the world at large. We are hungry for people who are moral leaders and citizens with strong character. We want people that make choices that create pride as Jews, Americans, and humans. We crave it so because it is the missing ingredient in the world we see.
In the Rosh HaShanah liturgy we read, “Hayom Harat Olam,” “Today is the Birthday of the World.” Actually, the Midrash teaches that it is the birthday of humanity. God created Adam on the sixth day, which is Rosh HaShanah. In our creation, we were given life, limbs, organs, and senses – but the “gift” we were given in being born is free will, the ability to make choices in our lives and to learn from those choices. We are afforded opportunities to make a difference and demonstrate right from wrong, good from evil.
Perhaps that is why Rosh HaShanah is the designated time in the calendar to evaluate how we have used that free will and to assess the choices we have made. It is a time to evaluate our character and the actions and deeds of the past year and recalibrate and realign for the year ahead. It is a time to assess our personal integrity. Rosh HaShanah is a time to forget about valuables and to refocus on values. It is a gift of a clean slate and an opportunity in life, regardless of where you are, to begin again, to start anew.
May this New Year of 5770 be a year dedicated to integrity, individual and collective. May 5770 renew our character and bring us pride. May this year keep us humble. May it awaken our sensitivities and may it show us that our actions affect our lives, our loved ones, and even our religion. May 5770 be a year in which we’re blessed to continue in the footsteps of our ancestors while paving the way for our children. May it be the year that begins to quench our thirst for integrity and leaves us wanting and doing more to build our character and merit God’s ovation – and our own.