Friday, October 28, 2011


To all of the non-baseball fans out there, I wanted to make sure you knew about last night's Game Six of the World Series between the Texas Rangers and the St. Louis Cardinals.  Commentators are already declaring the Cardinals' victory, which forces a Game Seven tonight, the greatest World Series game of all time!!  Read the local St. Louis coverage of the game here.

One of the things that caught my eye in reading all of the coverage of the game this morning was the fact that the Rangers' staff had already started preparing their locker room for the World Series victory party (which would have taken place had the Rangers won the game....which they literally on the verge of doing).  But alas, the Cards won.  And so, the hanging of plastic sheets over TV monitors and computers (to protect them from champagne) proved premature and unnecessary.
I love baseball (RIP 2011 Philadelphia Phillies).  But I never understood why locker room celebrations had to be marked by an excess of champagne and beer (televised live of course).
Either the Cards or the Rangers are going to win tonight's game, and the Series.  And one of them is sure to be doing some serious celebrating.  But at the risk of being a "party pooper," I want to devote this week's Etanu to the question of celebrating responsibly.

Some have suggested that champagne use be curtailed in baseball's postseason....Major League Baseball has asked teams to make sure that non-alcoholic choices are available...But I am going one step further.  I want to go on the record today to say that there is something wrong with the public glorification of excessive drinking - even when a team has just won the World Series.

I am deeply concerned about the mixed messages that we send our kids (and adults who continue to struggle with making healthy choices about alcohol) when network television broadcasts our larger than life heroes celebrating with champagne.

I'm not suggesting that Judaism is "dry" and believes we should be too.  Our tradition firmly accepts that there is a time and a place for enjoying alcohol moderation.  Adults in our community are invited to enjoy a little bit of wine during kiddush on Shabbat.  And we're invited to have four cups of wine on Passover (seders can get long and boring, after all).  But maintaining that sense of moderation is key.  Our tradition never allows or encourages binge drinking.  And it certainly never endorses alcohol-induced irresponsible behavior like drunk driving.

Judaism's approach to alcohol comes from several different places in the Torah, including in this week's Torah portion, Parshat Noach.  The portion is famously known for the story of the Great Flood...of Noah and his family (and all the animals) hunkering down on the Ark for 40 days and 40 nights....until eventually the rain stopped, they could get off the boat, get on with human history.

Except...there's a strange post-script to the story (Genesis 9:20-29).  According to the text, the very first thing that Noah did when he got off the boat was plant a vineyard.  (One commentator suggests that it was because Noah had an unhealthy dependence on alcohol, and desperately needed wine after the Flood.  And so, before planting fruits or vegetables, he started taking steps so that he could ultimately drink.)

Later, when he finally drank the wine, there is a bizarre incident with his sons.  It involves Noah being naked.  It's way strange.  The text isn't clear if something sexual happened...or if Noah just got so drunk that he became immodest/didn't realize that he was stripping...

What is clear is that the Torah is teaching us that alcohol (especially when we abuse it) has the power to make us do things that we don't even realize in the moment that we are doing.  And that is terribly problematic when it comes to a Jewish way of life.  Our ethics demand that we are constantly aware of our actions, and that we are always striving to make good, healthy, safe choices.

This strange incident with Noah and his sons teaches us about the danger that we put ourselves (and others) in when we lose control, and give up the ability to evaluate our actions/interactions with others.

So: to the Cardinals or the Rangers...whoever wins conscious of your behavior, and of what kind of message your champagne party is sending to impressionable Americans who are watching on TV.

And for the rest of us: a reminder that drinking requires a tremendous amount of maturity - to be self aware to know when we are approaching our limit, to know when we are potentially putting our bodies in harm's know when we absolutely should not be getting behind the wheel of a car, or hooking up with someone that we hardly know (or trust).

For anyone that has struggled with alcohol, the good news is that there are amazing resources to help!  Click here for the website of Alcoholic Anonymous (AA) or click here to find AA meetings around the country.  Everyone should also know about JACS (Jewish Alcoholics, Chemically Dependent Persons, and Significant Others)...the Jewish response to Alcoholism.  Click here for a directory of their local meetings.

Hoping you'll keep all of this information in mind...And that the next time you have occasion to celebrate...that you do it responsibly.

Shabbat Shalom.

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