I have a wise friend who always manages to discern practical lessons in avodas Hashem from seemingly mundane occurrences in life. As children, we both went to similar types of schools, where we received a good understanding of sports. Believe it or not, sports can be a treasure trove of practical lessons for life, and perhaps there is no sport that offers as much in the way of practical lessons as baseball.
Baseball has been referred to as America’s national pastime, and perhaps the reason, my friend suggested, is that in many ways, it mirrors life. Intrigued, I asked him if he had nothing better to do than expound on baseball and try to make a tenuous connection to avodas Hashem. With utmost seriousness, he replied, “Look, we are living in times when we constantly need chizuk. We have so many challenges and I am ready to derive chizuk from wherever I can get it.”
He went on to explain that baseball is very different than most sports. Most sports are constantly moving at a tremendously fast, exciting pace, but baseball is slow. There is excitement here and there, but most of the time, things are moving slowly and sometimes tediously.
Life is like that. We all want those constant highs. We want constant excitement. We want to be stimulated. But life isn’t like that. Life often plods along, unexciting. Often, most of one’s time is spent setting things up, strategizing, and then, most of the plans don’t even work out. Baseball is like that, too.
Baseball is also the sport with the longest season, with so many ups and downs as it proceeds. In baseball, everyone periodically strikes out, even the best players, and in baseball there is an idea of a “sacrifice.” Sometimes a person has to sacrifice his own personal goals in order to move up someone else and help the team, even at the expense of one’s own record and personal success.
My friend then made a point that gave me something to think about. He said, “In baseball, if you succeed a third of the time, you are mamish an all-star! Those with a .333 batting average are, without a doubt, going into the Hall of Fame. Let’s think for a moment. That means that they got out two-thirds of the time. Even when two-thirds of the time they didn’t succeed, they are deemed wildly successful!”
The Mortified Girl Who Only Received a 95%
Those words spurred me to think about a recent time when one of my daughters came home from school absolutely crestfallen. I saw on her face that she was devastated. Why? Because she had gotten a 95% on one of her tests. Only a 95%! She was mortified.
Perhaps my daughter’s reaction might be seen by some as a bit radical, but if you look around in our world, the quest for perfection, to be seen as perfect, invincible, and without blemish and fault is so pervasive that I am afraid that a very large percentage of young people, and not so young people, would have the same reaction as my daughter upon receiving a 95%.
This obsessive quest to be seen as having a perfect life is killing us. There are wonderful Jewish mothers who are juggling so much – large families, multiple jobs, chesed endeavors and so much more – who are absolutely mortified if someone walks into their house and Heaven forbid sees a toy on the floor, or a sink that still has dishes in it waiting to be washed…
Why Are You Mortified To Acknowledge That You Are A Busy Mother?
What is wrong with someone seeing that you are not Mrs. Perfect or the ultimate supermom? Is there anything wrong with acknowledging that you are a human being with myriad duties vying for your attention to the point that at times you just have to do triage and tackle the most important things while neglecting things that are superficial or less important?
Why are you mortified to acknowledge that, boruch Hashem, you are a busy mother with so many responsibilities that even two or three people would have a hard time juggling? Why are you instead focusing on the 5% that is not perfect and feel like a failure because you got only a 95%?
Sadly, to many of us, there is nothing more aggravating than seeing that our children are not projecting that “perfect” image that we so envisioned for ourselves.
We take it as a personal failure. A sign that we flunked, we failed ourselves, we failed them, and we failed society.
Not only is this foolish and counterproductive, but, more than anything else, it is a sign of a society that is unhealthy, unrealistic and setting itself up for failure. Any time a person has unrealistic and unreasonable expectations, he/she is setting themselves up for failure.
Only One Out of Every Thousand
Boys’ chinuch is no different. No, not every bochur is capable of learning three sedorim per day without a break. Certainly, we have to try to cultivate the one out of a thousand who, Chazal teach us, will one day come out as a baal hora’ah, but at the same time, we have to notice that Chazal acknowledged that a great baal hora’ah will only be one out of every thousand. The odds are that they won’t be your kid, notwithstanding the fact that he is a talented tzaddik…
If we are not realistic with ourselves and our children, we are setting ourselves up for all kinds of difficulties. (Experts tell us that eating disorders are just one horrible outgrowth of the obsessive perfectionism that is permeating our society.)
On a communal level, we suffer from the same thing. I always repeat this because it made such an impact on me. As a writer, I have been asked numerous times by yeshivos to write PR articles on their behalf. I remember distinctly one yeshiva that catered to bochurim who had heretofore been unsuccessful in yeshiva. This yeshiva really worked with each bochur on an individual basis to bring out the best in the bochurim and teach them how to learn and make them shine. I remember the rosh yeshiva telling me, “Lemaan Hashem, please don’t write that the yeshiva imparts ‘warmth’ or ‘individual attention’! Those are code words for a ‘shvache yeshiva’ and no one will send to us…”
You hear what is happening? Let’s play this out. A person’s son is struggling in yeshiva. In today’s times, we know that struggling in yeshiva is, more often than not, a recipe for disaster in that child’s future. If a child does not feel successful, if he feels that he hates learning and learning is so hard, we don’t know what will come next.
Finally, there is a yeshiva that can help him, but if we say that it is a yeshiva with “warmth,” the foolish parent or the bochur himself won’t want to go there, because he will look less than perfect, as he will officially be in a “shvache yeshiva.”
Perfectionism that Kills
This kind of communal perfectionism kills.
Look at baseball for a second. A person with a batting average of .300 is considered an all-star who can earn many millions of dollars per year. They are paying people millions upon millions per year to be unsuccessful more than 2 out of every 3 times.
In this past week’s parsha, we learned about a very special mitzvah, the mitzvah of b’tzedek tishpot amisecha, the mitzvah of being dan lekaf zechus, of giving the benefit of the doubt to our fellow Jew. That means that when we see someone doing something that might appear to be negative, we should try to see the positive in what he did, or at least highlight the mitigating factors that might have led him to do what he did.
It Is Time We Judged Ourselves Favorably
Perhaps, in addition to giving the benefit of the doubt to others and not judging them with the impossible standards of perfection that are unattainable and untrue, we should start being dan lekaf zechus ourselves, giving ourselves the benefit of the doubt and not judging ourselves so unfavorably.
We are our own worst enemies when we judge our success according to the impossible false standards of near perfection that we, in our arrogance, have foolishly and cruelly imposed on ourselves because society somehow decided that we all have to be perfect.
My dear friends, I am not advocating following baseball, but please take this lesson from baseball: You can get it right one out of three times and still be worth $10 million a year!
95% percent is not a failure.
80% is pretty good too.
Remember: If you bat .333, you are a shoo-in for the Hall of Fame.