Home Runs and Torah Do Not Meet
By Rabbi Ephraim D. Becker
My apologies to those who are not familiar with baseball; hopefully the
message will be clear even to those who do not share that childhood
experience with me.
Legend has it (I’ve not seen it confirmed anywhere) that baseball great Ty
Cobb once commented that Babe Ruth (the home run king of his time) didn’t
play real baseball. That is, by hitting the ball out of the park he was
missing the point of baseball; the careful placing of hits so as to move
the players forward.
When I heard the above I wondered why it is that a ball hit out of the
park is considered a home run. After all, hitting the ball out of the
playing area to the right or left is considered a foul ball, while hitting
it past the outfield fence is a home run. Strange. I cannot imagine the
same thing in another sport. Imagine throwing the football into the
stands past the end zone and having that be called a touchdown? Hitting
the ball hundreds of feet past the hole and getting a low score in golf?
Slamming the ball past one’s opponent in tennis without hitting the court
and getting a point for it? It really is a rather strange rule; a fluke
Upon reflection though, I realized that there is a great depth to this
fluke and one which bears a great deal of analysis. Man was created to
toil (Job/Iyov 5:7). That means that the ‘game’ of life involves steady
and persistent effort to perform Mitzvos; to study Torah; to perfect one’s
character; to earn a livelihood (Avos 2:2). In a word, there is no
substitute for Ameilus (toil) in the pursuit of a Torah life. That’s the
name of the game. We are even taught that the severe reprimand/warning
(the Tochacha) written in the Torah is essentially hinged on whether or
not we toil in our service of G-d (those wishing to see for themselves
should see Rashi on Vayikra 26:3 and 26:14).
This does not imply that such toil is meant to be depressive. Quite to
the contrary; if someone does not toil with joy then they have missed the
plot. But clearly we are speaking about toil. And toil is one well-
placed hit after another. Toil is not home runs.
Yet we are living, it seems, in the home run era. I have met with many
people who are trying to find a way to become a millionaire. They are not
looking to take small steps; they are looking for the big win. When
setting forth their service of G-d I have seen many people take on all
sorts of commitments that they cannot uphold in their efforts to score the
big win in their divine service. I meet with students of Torah who are
relying on their genius and not on their diligence and I see yet another
home run desperado. I certainly don’t know how to turn this around, but I
know that without turning it around in an individual’s life there will not
be genuine growth.
Home runs are a fluke of baseball; but they have become a fluke of modern
times. There are few signs of laziness as clear as the passion for a home
run. Careful, thoughtful play-by-play is the name of the game called
life. A paradigm shift is clearly required if we are to be happy with our
lives. Erasing the passion for the ‘big win’ must be accompanied by a
joyful acceptance of the terms of our lives and a celebration of every
moment that we are blessed to be in the game.
Rabbi Becker conducts Mussar-oriented counseling through his private practice in Jerusalem. He is also a popular lecturer in Israel and abroad. You can read more of his writings at his site