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The World Series of Life

The World Series of Life

In life no one's a benchwarmer, and other key lessons from baseball.


Once a year, October magic, a.k.a. the World Series, takes center stage across the United States and the entire country focuses on the American national pastime, Major League Baseball. Even nominal fans take interest in who will win.

Like most American kids, I grew up with sports as a major part of my life. And I still enjoy a good game every now and then. But I've often thought, does it really matter how far a young athlete can use a wooden stick to hit a 95 mile an hour fastball thrown at him? Is it really meaningful if my team wins?

People sometimes live vicariously through their teams. If my team wins the championship, I won the championship. Perhaps we 'worship' our heroes on the sporting fields because it is somehow our way of achieving greatness.

In our own lives, we often settle for mediocrity. We don't think of ourselves as living heroic lives, nor do we often aspire for true greatness. So we subconsciously live out 'greatness' through our heroes in the sporting world.

What a mistake. We can all be heroes, each of us in our own way. We all have a personal World Series to be won, and we are all in the game -- no one is a benchwarmer.

A few lessons can be gleaned from baseball for the World Series of Life:

1. Take a few pitches
In order to succeed at just about anything, we need to get a good view of what we are facing. We can't just swing away without a clear vision of what the challenges are. We need to get a good look at the options and only then decide to hit. We need to deliberate and reflect before acting.

We shouldn't be hasty when we making decision. First slow down and scrutinize all the aspects before choosing.

2. Don't get caught looking
On the other hand, it is possible to be too deliberate and, as a result, let opportunities slip by. In order to succeed, we have to plan appropriately, but at a certain point, we must give it a shot and swing for the fences. As our sages tell us, "Do not allow good deeds to leaven; if the opportunity to fulfill a mitzvah comes to your hand, do it immediately."

3. Prepare for the possibility of a curveball
If we're too inflexible, if we're expecting only a high fastball, we could easily strike out if the pitcher throws a curve. We are not prophets, we have no idea what will happen to us that is beyond our control. And if something happens that changes the course of our lives, we have to be willing to adapt. We can't be set in our vision.

Moses taught us this well when he smashed the divine tablets that God had given him to give to the Jewish people, after he witnessed the worshipping of the golden calf. He had worked extremely hard to receive those tablets and he viewed them as a crowning accomplishment. Yet, he changed course when he saw it was necessary.

4. Stretch a single into a double
There are times when we succeed, but with a little more effort, we can go even further. We finish a short study session and start relaxing when really we could try to study a bit more.

The story of the Talmudic sage, Rabbi Akiva, comes to mind. He started studying Torah at age 40 and became the Torah leader of the entire Jewish nation. Many of us would have been happy just to learn how to read the prayers in Hebrew but Rabbi Akiva wouldn't stop at first base. He went on to hit many thousands of home runs.

"Every person is fit to be as righteous as Moses, our Teacher" (Maimonides, Laws of Repentance 5:2).

God doesn't expect everyone to perform superhuman feats as Moses did, but He does anticipate that all people reach their own personal potentials.

If we live our lives properly and maximize our personal potential, we can be as righteous as Moses.

We all have a World Series to win. In fact, it's always a Game 7 and our team is down by a run in the bottom of the ninth with the bases loaded and two outs.

"A person should always view himself as if he is equally balanced -- half culpable and half worthy. If he does one mitzvah, one meritorious deed, he is fortunate, for he has tilted the scale for himself toward good. If he commits one transgression, woe to him, for he has tilted the scale for himself toward evil...

Further, a person should always view the world as if it is equally balanced, half culpable and half worthy. The world is judged based on the majority. If an individual does one mitzvah, he tilts the global scale toward good. If he transgresses, the global scale is moved toward evil" (Babylonian Talmud, Kiddushin 40b).

There are many lessons we can learn from baseball. Care to offer a few more in the Reader's Comments?

October 28, 2006

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Visitor Comments: 11

(11) Baruch, November 25, 2012 7:48 PM

Another lesson

Batting .300 is considered hitting excellence. Imagine that! You fail 70% of the time but you are considered among the elite players in the game. We certainly don't have to bat 1.000 in the game of life, but striving to succeed 8 or 9 out of ten mitzvah opportunities is certainly a gold standard. We all have to face curveballs and even a knuckleball from time to time. Emphasizing our achievements will bring more happiness than dwelling on our failures.

(10) Davidthe"Bagel", October 31, 2006 3:30 PM

baseball and torah analogies....

Very nice article, Rabbi Leff. I very much enjoy your writing. To continue in the theme of this article, one idea that can also be discussed is the importance of working as a team instead of just individually. Championships are won by teams, not individual players. So too, more mitzvos can be done when you help someone else. For example: joining a minyan vs. davening alone. etc...

Another thing I would maybe add to it is that even when mistakes are made ("strikes" or "outs"), there is still the possibility for redemption ("hits" and "runs"); ie: Teshuva. We were given the ability and opportunity to do teshuva for our mistaken or misguided actions.

Oh, one more analogy. Even though sports teams have set season schedules, the better players tend to work out all year round to stay in top shape. They often perform at very high levels during the season because they are always trying to improve. So too, the Torah requires us to "stay in shape" all year round. By being diligent in this regard every single day, we can improve ourselves considerably. Hey, you could make this into a good Drasha for Rosh Hashana/Yom Kippur!

(9) Anonymous, October 30, 2006 1:24 PM

Baseball and Torah

As a fellow fan, I enjoyed your piece. Midrashim based on baseball are endless in possibilities. As Torah is Life, and baseball is life, Baseball is Torah! This is so, as athletic excellence requires not merely the physical, but also the mental and the spiritual acting harmoniously. This is proven by the phenomenon in sports of momentum in a game, which is a function of the spiritual state of the players as individuals and as a team. I am reminded of the Ten Spies. They broke down in the pennant race and did not get to the playoffs. So, football and basketball season is ahead of us....

(8) Dave, October 30, 2006 12:57 PM

Even When You Strike Out. . .

You need to get ready for your next at bat. We are allowed to make mistakes and shouldn't be too hard on ourselves. We can and will redeem our failures with successes.

(7) MaddyMalek, October 29, 2006 4:40 PM

Great article

Rabbi Leff always knows how to catch my eye with his informative and interesting articles.Thanks for sharing those thoughts with the readers. Keep up the good work!

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