Q: How do we know that the one true God, rather than a false God, is the recipient of our prayers? — From J in Wilmington, North Carolina
A: "Amen" is the word we say to conclude all our prayers. Amen comes from the root word meaning "trust." When we conclude a prayer with Amen, we are not saying "please." "Please" would make praying an act of begging, and begging God for things is inappropriate and arrogant. Why should the God of the universe favor us with an answered prayer when there are millions with needs greater than ours?
When we conclude a prayer with Amen, we are not saying "what I just said was true." That would make praying an act of philosophy. How do we know that our version of God and the universe are the true version of God and the universe?
When we say Amen, we are expressing trust, not need or truth. The main choices we make in life are what and whom to trust. We can live a good life without having our desires granted or understanding the deep mysteries of the truth of the universe; we cannot live a single day without trust in something or someone. Trust is a conclusion we draw from past actions. We trust family and friends because of what they have done for us. We trust that the universe will sustain us because it has in the past. We trust in God because God has given us a code of law and life that has proved to produce families and futures and hope for us all. Trust is a conclusion we draw from the way love has touched us in our lives. This makes every prayer a version of "thank you."
A false God is easy to spot. A false God asks us to do things without a history of love, sustenance and trust. A false God asks us to renounce our families and past. A false God asks us to give money in return for blessings. A false God teaches us to hate others who do not believe in the false God. A false God has no history of trust and no way to inspire trust.
So just keep praying prayers that end with Amen. The one true God will surely hear those prayers of trust and love.
Back to sport-as-life question
And now, one last comment on the topic of baseball as the sport that is most like life from a Central Pennsylvania baseball fan:
"Dear Rabbi Gellman: My favorite player is Sandy Koufax of the Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers. I think he is the epitome of a baseball player and a man. When the Dodgers played in the 1965 World Series, the first game fell on Yom Kippur. Sandy refused to play. I don't know of any other player, before or since, who refused to play a game due to a religious holiday. A quote from Jane Leavy's book, 'Sandy Koufax, A Lefty's Legacy': "In that moment, he became known as much for what he refused to do as for what he did on the mound. By refusing to pitch, Koufax defined himself as a man of principle who placed faith above craft."
What Sandy Koufax did in that October of 1965 changed my life. None of us know how important our faith is to us until we are confronted with a sacrifice for faith. Koufax passed his test and made me proud to be Jewish. Ralph Branca told me a story about Don Drysdale, the pitcher who replaced Koufax that day. The Minnesota Twins bombed Drysdale. He gave up seven runs (three earned) in just 2 2/3 innings. When the manager, Walter Alston, came to the mound to pull him, Drysdale said, "Hey skip, I bet you wish I was Jewish!"
By the way, check out Hank Greenberg, who did not play for the Detroit Tigers on Yom Kippur in 1934, though he did play that year on Rosh Hashanah. In 1934, however, the Jewish High Holidays did not fall during the World Series. That did happen to Greenberg and the Tigers the next year, when Game 6 fell on Yom Kippur and Greenberg decided to play. His wrist was injured, though, and so he could not play despite being in uniform on the bench. Greenberg's story is more complex, and things were much tougher for Jews in America than they were in Koufax's time.
So, the homework question for you, dear readers, is this: What is the greatest sacrifice you have made for your faith?
SEND QUESTIONS AND COMMENTS to The God Squad at firstname.lastname@example.org or Rabbi Marc Gellman, Temple Beth Torah, 35 Bagatelle Rd., Melville, NY 11747.