Baseball season is now upon us. The truth is, I am not a big sports fan and never really understood all the rules of the different games, but during high school, I enjoyed a baseball game now and then. My father on the other hand, may he be well and live a long life, can tell you anything you want to know about any sport and then some. However, when one becomes religiously observant, and advances in spiritual pursuits, sports and other similar forms of entertainment lose their appeal as they take us away from more lofty objectives. Since our sages, including Rebbe Nachman of Breslev zt’l (may the memory of the righteous be for blessing), say one can and should elevate all mundane matters into the realm of holiness, let’s give it a try.
When it came to sports, I was never much of an athlete. As a result, in high school, when our whole school participated in tryouts for the girls’ basketball team, I was shocked when I made it through to the second round. It made me step back and think, ‘hey, maybe I CAN do it’. If the coach had confidence in me, I must have some potential. The same holds true for all of us in this material world. G-d, our Master Coach, would never have brought us here with our individualized tasks, if He didn’t think we could achieve our goals. That awareness should give each of us some encouragement.
During a baseball game, there are always players sitting in the dugout, but they don’t have to remain there. In order to get a turn on the field, a team member first must prove himself. By hard work and making an effort to progress, anyone can be in the first lineup (allegorically, gain entry to the World to Come). But one won’t get a chance to play in the major leagues if he doesn’t even get up to bat. He must first take the initiative to improve and when he finally gets his break, he shouldn’t waste a second of this prime opportunity. Similar to a batter who spends several minutes in the batter’s cage warming up before his turn up at bat, we ought to also prepare ourselves as a prelude to our prayers and other sacred undertakings. If we don’t strengthen ourselves in emuna and holiness, we will surely strike out. Even if this happens, don’t despair. Rebbe Nachman says “There is no despair in the World”. If we get knocked down, we must pick ourselves up and try again. In baseball, we are given only 3 chances… three strikes and you’re out. In life, we have as many new opportunities as we desire. Contrary to the rules of baseball, Rabbi Lazer Brody teaches that if HaShem does something three times, we can assume He will do it again.
The catcher, just like our yetzer hara (evil inclination), is anxiously waiting to cash in on our failures. One blunder can make the difference between sending the ball high into left field or right into the catcher’s mitt. If we hit a foul ball, we simply need to adjust our strategy slightly and accept helpful tips from the coach. In baseball, once the hitter is already at the plate it’s too late to review the rules, but in the game of life, constantly strengthening our knowledge of Torah is primary. “Torah study has the power to direct a person with the proper and correct advice in all of his endeavors. It is vitally important to have faith in the Tzadikkim. Then, by studying their words, the Torah will guide man to his proper course in life” (Likutey Moharan 1, 61:1).
Life has a way of throwing curveballs at us when we’re least expecting it. Understanding that it is all from Hashem and for the very best, we can overcome the difficulties with a clear and tranquil mind. Occasionally, we are presented with situations in order to be united with others, even those with whom we don’t always see eye to eye. One rule of thumb in sports is to know your opponent which is also beneficial in making peace with a family member, neighbor or friend. Rebbe Nachman tells us to seek out the good points in both ourselves and others to bring about happiness. Sometimes, a well-placed bunt into the infield is all you need to get on base and bring your teammates home.
Despite all his hard work, occasionally a batter may be replaced by a pinch hitter. Unfortunately, in baseball, the substituted player is never allowed back into that game. Rabbi Brody explains in his lesson ‘Unconditional Love’ that Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai zt’l states in the Zohar, when someone gets angry, they lose their Neshama and Ruach, (parts of the soul), the Nefesh (basic soul) takes a walk and sends a pinch hitter (from the dark side) to fill in. If this happens, the Jewish Neshama (soul) is lost, a far worse penalty than losing out on one baseball match.
Once the pitcher warms up, he situates himself on the pitcher’s mound, intent on striking the batter out. He is on the ‘other side’, the same team as the catcher, so a staunch performance is paramount in foiling their plans. If the batter is prepared and has trained sufficiently, he will be able to outmaneuver them. Sure enough, a fast-ball makes its way to the plate and with one crack it flies into the air, but alas, it is caught before it hits the ground. With 2 out and bases loaded at the bottom of the 9th, nothing short of a miracle will win the game. The batter says a prayer as he knows he cannot win the game alone. He hits the ball so perfectly that he can’t believe his eyes. But wait…..the outfielder tries to grab the ball and it instantly disappears! Poof!
"All of the desires of this world are like rays of light. - You try to catch them in your hand only to find there is nothing in your grasp." (Rebbe Nachman's Wisdom #6)
The batter wakes up to find that it was all just a dream. We too will wake up one day and realize that our existence was more fleeting than we understood. Only Torah and Mitzvot (good deeds and following the commandments) are eternal and worthy of our time and efforts.
The world in which we live today can be compared to the bottom of the 9th inning. It is only with HaShem’s help that we will merit to triumph, and only if we do our utmost to prove our commitment to our Creator and His Manual (Torah). With the World Series looming, isn’t it time to step up to the plate and give it all we’ve got? And one more thing ~ it’s still not too late to slide Home!