By Rabbi MORDECHAI RUBIN
Director of the Colonie Chabad
Our local Colonie Little League team (12U) rolled through and won the New York State Championship tournament! The Raiders were just two wins from making a trip to the storied Little League World Series in Williamsport, Penn.
As we celebrate local sportsmanship with our own Colonie Raiders making their way to the top, I’d like to take some positions.
Although I played soccer in a league (at Afrim’s) as a young boy, my favorite sport was baseball. I was a pretty avid Yankees fan in the early 2000s. Funny enough, last summer I visited the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. It was an interesting time to go; there was hardly anyone there and we had a lot of time with the exhibit and guides. When I came to the Hall of Fame, I found out that it was the Yankees’ Shortstop Derek Jeter’s turn to be inducted that summer (due to COVID it was pushed off). He was my favorite player as a youngster.
Lessons To Learn?
As a proud Jew and a Chabad rabbi I was looking to find some deeper lesson in my visit. We believe that we can learn lessons in life from all that we hear and see.
I went into the actual Hall of Fame, seeing all the plaques of Babe Ruth, Cy Young, Mickey Mantle, Hank Aaron and the other big hitters.
I then went to see the plaque of the southpaw Sandy Koufax, hailed as one of the greatest pitchers in baseball history. He had many great accomplishments on the mound, a six time All-Star and was the National League’s MVP in 1963. He won three Cy Young Awards, making him the first three-time Cy Young winner in history. Koufax was the first to pitch four no-hitters and the eighth to pitch a perfect game. Despite his comparatively short career, Koufax’s 2,396 career strikeouts ranked seventh in history as of his retirement, trailing only Warren Spahn (2,583) among left-handers.)
What really makes him stand out among the rest?
The Inspirational Koufax
It was Game 1 of the 1965 World Series LA Dodgers vs. the Minnesota Twins. Game 1 fell on Yom Kippur, the most sacred day of the Jewish year. His decision not to pitch Game 1 (LA lost, 8-2) because it fell on Yom Kippur got national attention, and is a notable event in American Jewish history, and I daresay, a valuable lesson for every American.
That may be well known, but let me share something I recently learned which is so telling. Believe it or not, while yes he did not play Game 1, he did play the following days. Well, Koufax was named the series MVP. Koufax did not pitch in Game 1, but pitched in Game 2 and then tossed shutouts in Games 5 and 7 (with only two days of rest in between) to win the championship. There is a reason that he had the miraculous strength to climb to MVP and win it for his team.
He was MVP for something else he did… He taught people all across this great land that there are values worth sacrificing for. He taught Jews all across this land that we need not be ashamed or afraid to stand up proudly and be who we are.
Looking at his plaque I noticed something that seemed strange. He only played for 12 seasons, retiring at 30. Many of the other great players played many more seasons (the Babe — 26, Mickey —18, Young —22, Aaron —23 years). Arthritis in his left elbow had ended his career prematurely.
It turns out that, to date, he was the youngest to be inducted to the hall, at the age of 36 (when many players are still in their prime). The guide told me that this man is still alive! If it wasn’t for COVID, he’d be there, signing balls.
This leaves us with two remarkable facts about Koufax: Firstly, he is to date the youngest inductee, and played very few seasons. And second, he is still around until today, the longest living member of the Hall of Fame.
Our Story Too!
The Koufax story is the story of his people. These two facts are both true of the Jewish people, and I believe, each has a deep lesson for the all citizens of the world, “a light unto the nations.”
Minorities may seem small. The Jewish nation is certainly a minority— just 14 million in a world population close to 8 billion, which is approx. 0.175%!
Koufax was the youngest player and played so few seasons, yet he had such a great impact. He made a personal decision that made a major impression for generations to come. He set the standard and paved the path for people of all faiths and cultures to thrive even in the big world stage, not compromising their dearest core values and traditions.
Just this year, two more possible Sandy Koufaxs were drafted by two MLB teams: the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Washington Nationals. Inspired by Koufax, they are Shabbat observant Jews, not only observing the most sacred day of Yom Kippur, but also the 52 Shabbats of the year.
What Is The Message?
The message to all is that it is a home-run! Never assume that you are too small or insignificant to make a major impact on the lives of those around you and the world at large. In addition, one doesn’t need to compromise values and faith to gain respect in the world! Perhaps the contrary is true.
Secondly, from Koufax’s longevity, he is 86 today, inducted in 1972. He has been the longest living, serving member in the Hall of Fame, almost 50 years. Some may think that being small or young cannot be sustainable, it is temporary, perhaps a star, but a fleeting star.
Even when success does strike, it looks like a lucky strike. Lucky is great and fun, but isn’t a responsible course of action. However, people that connect to that, which may not seem popular in 2021, and proudly adhere to values even on the public stage and that is the magic. In this lies the secret of an eternal people.
The Jewish people have been a small and most oppressed nation for centuries; yet, against all odds they are the oldest and longest lasting and a never-ending chain of tradition and faith. Contributing majorly to the world in the medicines, sciences and technologies and even more particularly in scholarship, moral values and ethics.
Never forget the meaning in life, a divine calling for the creator to make the world a better place. Whenever you face challenges, act with your core values.
I would like to conclude with a lesson that my great mentor, the grand rebbe of Chabad shared with a young bar mitzvah boy back in the ’50s, to be a player and not a fan:
Each team has its fans cheering it on to victory. When a team loses, its fans are naturally disappointed. A series of defeats will likely frustrate them even more, and they will lose interest in the team, switching their allegiance to another. The players themselves, however, will persevere; the loyalty they feel towards their team is enduring and will withstand the letdown of defeat.
This idea is true to how we deal with frustration and adversity. There is an approach similar to that of the fan. When confronted with adversity, this character will generally attempt to avoid it, often behaving in an undisciplined and inconsistent manner. Often changing his course of action to escape causes of frustration and dissatisfaction.
By contrast, another personality exists, the player. Regardless of what happens, he will persevere and put forth his best efforts to make things work out. Such individuals regard all that occurs to them as part of a constellation of events designed for their betterment.
It goes without saying that the latter personality is indicative of a well-integrated person capable of meeting adversity head on. His ability to maximize the gain from all situations, even those fraught with difficulty, lies in the recognition that they too are opportunities for character development and refinement. These challenges, when viewed as opportunities, will serve to elevate both the individual and his environment, the rebbe concluded.
Best wishes and blessings of mazal tov to our homegrown Colonie little league team! Remember, we are always winners in this game if we can have the right sportsmanship, tolerate others, live with unity and harmony and most importantly be proud of who we are!
Rabbi Mordechai and Chana Rubin are the directors of the Chai Jewish Center, Colonie, ChaiCenterColonie@gmail.com