The Phillies went nowhere this year...but look at the Mets! They take the field tonight in Game One of the World Series!
If we move beyond the question of the spiritual aesthetic of the ballpark, the question I'm often asked is: Rabbi Brown, is it okay to pray for my sports team to win?!
If we were talking about the Phillies, the answer would be easy: of course it's okay! Whatever it takes for them to find some success. (Unfortunately for me: no prayers were going to help the Phillies this season!)
But if you're really concerned about the theological implications of the larger question, here are three reasons why I would absolutely encourage you to pray for the Mets (and any other favorite sports team) you might have:
1. We should not take this question too seriously! Whatever you believe about God, it would be ludicrous in my humble opinion to presume that God would actually, willingly choose sides in something as inconsequential as a baseball game. God has more important things to be doing in Heaven than sitting on God's proverbial couch, rooting for the Mets. This definitely falls into the category of prayer that is more about ourselves, and the impact that the prayer has on us. The prayer has nothing to do with God, because we shouldn't believe that God is concerned with a ball game, even if it is the World Series. As Rabbi Jonathan Sacks puts it: "Prayer changes the world because it changes us." How are we going to change in the next week as we cheer on the Mets? Maybe our connection with our partner, or kids, or friends, or fellow fans - whoever we are watching one of the games with - will be deepened because of our cheering. Or maybe we'll change because our excitement and enthusiasm for the Mets will inspire us to join the team in its many worthy community service projects! There's nothing wrong with praying for our team, if we are open to the possibility of allowing that spiritual moment to change us for the better.
2. Let's be honest. There are worse things in the world than praying that the Mets win. We're not praying that all evil-doers die violent, painful deaths. (Oops! Yikes! Traditional Jews do actually pray for the death of evil-doers three times every weekday in Birkat HaMinim! Thankfully Reform liturgists have adjusted the wording to make it more palatable.) We're praying for our team to win the World Series, which would result in a day or two of deep and profound happiness...sheer joy...throughout the entire NYC metro area. A little joy and community unity never hurt anyone! And it hardly seems problematic in comparison to other things that Jews have historically prayed for.
3. Judaism values the passion of our prayers as much as it values the prayers' content. There is a longstanding conversation in Judaism about the notion of kavannah (the level of passion and intention that we bring to our prayer). Rabbi Daniel Landes, writing in My People's Prayer Book, notes Jewish mysticism's praise for spontaneous passionate prayer by citing the following from the Zohar: "Rabbi Judah said: Of all the three expressions of prayer used in the Exodus narrative, crying out (tsa'akah) is the greatest of all because it is entirely a matter of the heart...this crying comes nearer to the Holy One Blessed be He than imploring and praying in words. Rabbi Berachiah said: When people pray and weep and cry so intensely that they are unable to find words to express their [feelings], theirs is the perfect prayer, for it is in their heart, and this will never return to them empty." I'm sure Rabbi Landes will take issue with my reading, but it seems to me that there is a real Jewish value being expressed here: that authentic spontaneous prayer that springs forth from the depths of our hearts and souls is the kind of prayer that catches God's attention.
So...take it straight from the Zohar...if the Mets are truly a passion of your's, then sing their praises and lift up your words of supplication to the Holy One in the Ultimate Skybox.
Blessed are You, O Holy One, the One who hears our prayers!
Let's Go Mets!!