Sports are one of the great sources for spiritual insights. As a child, I remember paying extra attention when the rabbi used an illustration from baseball or football.
They helped me visualize and understand the spiritual lesson. Of all sports, baseball lends itself best to Jewish wisdom.
Every year as the season opens, I am reminded of this truth. As a Chicagoan, most of whose synagogue members are Cubs fans, I need to draw from that wisdom often.
Here are seven insights gleaned from the baseball diamond.
1. No one is perfect: No player gets a hit every at bat. No pitcher wins every game. No team has a perfect season.
As Tommy Lasorda put it, “No matter how good we are, we’re going to lose one-third of our games. No matter how bad we are we’re going to win one-third of your games and so it’s the other third that makes all the difference.”
2. Hope spring eternal: Every season inspires the imagination. Every pitch is a new opportunity. It is no accident baseball starts in the spring. The change in season reinforces this lesson, as nature is reborn and life reappears.
3. The little things are the big things:Have you ever been at a baseball game transformed by a badly thrown pitch? Have you ever seen a ball land just right of the foul line, leading to the game-winning run? In baseball, as in life, the little things make all the difference.
4. Patience is required: Baseball can be really boring. There is a lot of waiting. Batters wait for the pitch. Fielders wait for the ball. Fans wait for a home run.
Yet, when we least expect it, we may be called to catch a fly ball. We may be called upon to score the game-winning run. If we don’t pay attention, it can whiz right by us.
5. We are alone and together: In baseball every player matters, yet only the team wins or loses. We play alone, yet we play for the team.
The same is true in life. We are responsible for our choices. Yet, we play with others. We play for our families, our work, our traditions, our God.
6. There is no time limit: When a baseball game starts, no one knows whether it will be long or short. It could last 9 short innings. It could reach 16 excruciating ones. We stay in the game until it’s over.
7. Everyone can get in the game: Height is crucial to basketball. Weight is crucial to football. IQ is crucial to chess. Yet, all of these measurements are generally irrelevant for baseball.
Anyone can play. Anyone can get lucky. All you need to do is suit up.
I used to enjoy walking into a home of peace and quiet. Since the film Frozen premiered, I have lacked this simple pleasure. Its soundtrack seems to play on a continuous loop every day throughout our home.
I guess that’s part of the price to pay for having two small children. As a glass half-full kind of guy, however, I’ve tried to find the positive message in my children’s obsession with this particular film. Aside from its beautiful music and cinematography, it does convey profound truths.
Should We All Let It Go?
On the surface, the overriding message seems to be “Let it go.” In other words, be true to yourself. Follow the passion lying deep in your heart.
But this interpretation ignores the events of the film. When Princess Elsa does “Let it go,” she unleashes her power to make everything frozen and almost destroys her country. When she thinks only about herself, others suffer.
Love Means Sacrifice
The deeper lesson is the connection between love and sacrifice. The true hero of the film, in my humble opinion, is not Elsa. It is her sister Anna.
Anna begins as the playful younger siblings. She is flummoxed when her sister seems to ignore her, unaware of Elsa’s fear of using her powers too capriciously.
She yearns for companionship and falls for the handsome and seemingly honorable Prince Hans. In the end, however, Hans seeks only to gain power for himself. He plans to kill Anna and blame Elsa.
Anna stops him by risking her own life to protect Elsa’s, and this sacrificial act of love saves the kingdom. It also saves Elsa, who realizes love is the key to controlling her power. The two sisters and the rest of the kingdom live happily ever after.
Putting it all together, we have three key spiritual truths.
1. Appearances deceive: Prince Hans seemed like a responsible loving leader. Yet, he nearly succeeds in murdering Anna and Elsa and taking over their kingdom.
Elsa also seemed like a rude and aloof sister to Anna. Yet, Elsa acted this way because she did not want to hurt her sister, not because she did not love her.
2. Letting it go can be dangerous: Despite the beauty and catchiness of the song, “Let it go” is not a lesson for living. It is a recipe for chaos if we let it go too far.
3. Love wins: A prince does not kiss the princess and save the day. Rather, a sister puts herself in harm’s way to save another life. A sister learns that power can only be used wisely when we love those we serve.
When love wins, we all live happily ever after.
A healthy marriage is sustained by consistency. It is not the big moments—the wedding day, the birth of a child, the new home. It is the acts of love and commitment expressed daily, weekly and year after year.
Sustaining them is not always easy. One consistent practice I suggest to young parents is a date night. Too often their lives become consumed by their children’s. (I can attest to it.)
Yet, one of the best ways we can teach children the importance of family and relationships is by demonstrating dedication to one another. A date night helps make that into a habit.
A Little Time for Each Other
The habit can also help our relationship with God. Daily prayer is important, but a regular evening or morning of worship nurtures the relationship.
God knew that long ago and instituted a regular date with each of us called the Sabbath. For an hour or two, we sit with God. We pray, we sing, we eat. We talk about our week and let God speak into our lives.
The benefits this date night are manifold.
1. Space to grow: In the business of life, we can become so caught up in the trees that we miss the forest. The Sabbath lets us look at our lives from what the philosopher Spinoza called “the perspective of eternity.” We see what is insignificant and remind ourselves of what matters most.
Just like a married couple sometimes needs to step outside the grind of carpools and soccer games to remind themselves of their abiding love, so we need to step outside the messiness of the everyday and see the holiness up above.
2. Time to listen: God does not often speak directly. We need to discern God’s word. There is a reason the ancient Israelites received God’s law in the wilderness. They were not distracted by buildings and crowds.
The Sabbath is an opportunity to set daily distractions aside. In Jewish tradition we do not spend money or do physical labor. We rest. We reflect. We listen.
3. Energy to re-engage: Human beings are not energizer bunnies. We do not keep going and going and going. We need to pause in order to persist. We need to stop in order to surge. We need to recharge in order to return.
God built a day for rest into the natural order. The Sabbath is not only an obligation. It is a gift. And it is a gift that keeps on giving.