Beit Midrash

  • Family and Society
  • Understanding Circumstances
To dedicate this lesson

The Long Game


Rabbi Berel Wein

A number of my grandchildren petitioned me to take them to a baseball game while I was in the New York area. The game was played at the new Yankee Stadium, a large and imposing structure if there ever was one. Since I am an incurable doting grandfather and baseball expert I readily agreed to their request and we all went to the stadium to watch the game. I have often felt that baseball has many life like metaphoric qualities to it. It is a game of great skill and enormous frustration. An athlete that is successful only thirty percent of the time is considered to be a star in this game. It is a game of nuances and subtleties, of inches either way and of unexpected and unpredictable events that form no pattern. It is also a game that has no time limitation to it. The actual game usually takes close to three hours to finish though the time span can be shorter and many times it is considerably longer. Unlike other sports this one does not operate under the tyranny of the clock. It therefore has its own constantly changing rhythm and pace. It is a slow game with intermittent eruptions of excitement. It is also a very long season pf games - at least twice as long as any of the other major professional sports. It is a sport that rewards individual excellence but demands team play. In all of these qualities it certainly mimics life itself and perhaps that is its greatest appeal to its spectators and paying customers.

The game I attended was not a particularly exciting or well played one. But my grandchildren thoroughly enjoyed themselves so I was more than satisfied. A grandparent must always be able to show a lighter side of one’s self to one’s future generations. In our current world this is called bonding. Though I was watching the game my mind wandered to consider more weighty matters. The ability to sit through a long game in order to arrive at a final result is what lies at the heart of many issues in our personal and national lives. We crave instant decisions and immediate clarity. "Now" is the imperative word in many segments of our society. My grandchildren have taught me never to leave the game until it is officially ended no matter how lopsided the score may appear at earlier stages of the game. The famous fable regarding the hare and the tortoise applies not only to baseball games but to all of life itself. King Solomon phrased it correctly when he wrote that the race is not always to the swift. The current issues that plague the Jewish world could stand a longer view of them. The role of the Israeli Supreme Court in religious matters, if it should have any role at all, needs long term perspective and not case by case provocations. So does a deeper understanding of the place of religion in a secular "Jewish democratic state." The spinning of its wheels peace process, with the numerous two state solutions advocated but never capable of being implemented over the past ninety years bears a longer perspective and overview as to its current practicality or viability. Life generally and Jewish life particularly is a very long game. Until the game is truly over, so to speak, we really cannot accurately assess winners and losers, wise policies and foolish decisions, hasty actions and truly measured responses. And since like baseball, these issues have no known time constraints it is obvious that we are in for a very long game regarding these matters.

Since our life span is certainly limited and finite there is a natural tendency for humans to be in a hurry. We make all sorts of grandiose plans and predictions - Five Year Plans and the like - about a future about which we are completely ignorant. We forget that the law of unintended consequences is omnipresent in our lives, again both personal and national. We are impatient for the game to end; having lost the wonders of childhood at simply observing what is taking place before our eyes, no matter what the apparent score may be at this given moment. Jewish life with all of its thrills and excitement, boredom and tiredness, improbabilities and constants, is a very long game. Viewing it from this perspective can help one achieve a more sanguine sighting of the sightings and appearances of our lives. As the great baseball sage, Yogi Berra, once commented: "It ain’t over until it’s over!"
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