As the leaves begin to fall from the trees, and the weather begins to turn cool, sports fans turn their attention to the baseball playoffs. There we expect the focus to be on perennial playoff teams such as the Yankees, the Red Sox, the Cardinals, and the Braves.
But this year is a bit different. The focus of this year's playoffs is none other than the Colorado Rockies.
"The who?" you ask.
The Rockies have generally been nothing short of horrible. They've posted a losing record in the last six seasons, including finishing dead last in three of those.
Even this season, the Rockies continued their losing ways. On May 21, close to two months into this season the Rockies were nine games under .500 and in last place. Then they hit a new low by winning only once on a 10-game road trip in June.
The rest of the season was up and down, and at the beginning of September the Rockies had managed to get themselves just four games above .500 and behind two other teams in the wild-card race.
Then the incredible happened.
Check your scorecard: 17 wins in 18 games.
The Rockies won 13 out of the last 14 games of the regular season. That brought them to a tie with San Diego for the wild card spot. They then beat San Diego in a one-game playoff to win a spot in the playoffs.
Now, the once-lowly Rockies are in the National League championship series after sweeping the Philadelphia Phillies in the first round of the playoffs. Check your scorecard: That's 17 wins in 18 games.
Take a breath and appreciate all this: After such a lowly start, the Rockies could have easily assumed that this would be another one of their dismal seasons. The fiasco road trip in June should have been the nail in the coffin on another losing season. But the Rockies reached and stretched beyond what others thought they could accomplish and, more importantly, beyond what even they themselves thought possible.
Encouragement and Elevation
As with everything else in life, there's a Jewish angle simmering below the surface.
The concept of reaching beyond one's assumed potential can be learned from contradictory sources regarding the revelation at Mount Sinai.
In one source, the Sages teach that when God spoke to the Jewish people at Sinai, each Jew felt that God was speaking to him according to his individual level. (Pesikta D'Rav Kahana 12)
However, another source teaches that when God spoke to the people, it was too much to handle and their souls left their bodies because of the overwhelming experience. (Talmud - Shabbat 87a)
Which one was it?
Rabbi Zev Leff explains there is no contradiction. The level of a Jew is not defined by where he stands right now. Every person has remarkable potential and we barely scrape the surface of what we can actually achieve. When God spoke to each Jew according to his "level," it was actually based on the level which the person had the potential to achieve. And then, when the Jews saw the huge gap between who they actually were and who God expected them to be, it was too much to handle... and their souls left their bodies.
This is one explanation of why on Shabbat evening we bless our sons to be "like Ephraim and Menashe." They were the sons of Joseph, and the grandsons of Jacob. However, Jacob "elevated" them to the level of his "sons," and thus they were numbered among the tribes of Israel -- even though they were grandsons and not sons.
Despite what seemed to be a biological limitation, attaining the level of a "son" (and a tribe) was not beyond their potential. Likewise, the potential of every person is boundless, and that's why parents bless their sons to be like Ephraim and Menashe. We encourage them to reach deep inside, and reach far beyond.
So let's ask a question: What was the secret of the Colorado Rockies' success?
Could they have ever imagined winning 17 out of their last 18 games?
No way! Because the goal is too overwhelming.
So here's where I think they made the breakthrough: They did know that they could win each game they suited up to play. They took it one game at a time, and one inning at a time. Approaching each game in this manner, they managed to reach beyond their assumed potential into the playoffs and now the championship series.
When we succeed once, that provides the fuel to succeed again.
We can do the same. When a task seems overwhelming, the key is to break it down into small, achievable steps. Then, by succeeding at one step, we gain encouragement to move on to the next step. This applies to all aspects of life, and, especially to the spiritual realm.
As we saw regarding the revelation at Sinai, each of us has the ability to achieve far more than we currently do and far more than we think we can. Using the Rockies approach, one can build and build toward a meaningful goal, until before one realizes it, even the "impossible" has been achieved.