What Little League Can Teach Us About Post-Holiday Jewish Life
Little League for 8-year-olds should be called Error Ball. Each week when I get to watch my son’s team play, I marvel at how much errors drive the results rather than skills or strategy. An overthrow at first base gets the runner to second… or third. A moment of distraction sees the ball roll right past short stop and into left field – another run for the other team. It’s why the league has a five run maximum for each inning. It’s also why the coach rotates the players through the fielding positions – equal opportunity error making.
But the boys don’t seem to notice. They go out with their not quite broken-in baseball gloves, shiny bats, and too clean baseball pants with the enthusiasm of the professionals they watch compete for the pennants. Happy for a chance at bat, excited when they make any play at all, these kids don’t see the errors, they’re just excited to play the game. It’s refreshing even if their record is not at the top of the league.
Their innocent, unreflective perspective feels refreshing after all the serious introspection of the High Holy Days, after the prescribed gratitude of Sukkot, and after the ritualized new beginning of Simchat Torah. Each of Tishrei’s momentous observances reminded us to live an intentional life, a life of direction, of purpose, of striving. And that’s good. We need those annual reminders. But after a month of direction from our Holy Days – dayenu, enough.
You see, Tishrei and its Holy Days are actually kind of like little league practice. It’s like the time the kids spend with their coach practicing their swings with pitch after perfect pitch; catching pop flies that come right to them; fielding perfectly thrown grounders to first – the rituals Little League uses to make them better for game time. The same is true for the rituals we use for the High Holy Days and Sukkot and Simchat Torah. All that introspection and prescribed gratitude and new beginning hopefully sets us on the right track when it’s time to reenter the “game” of life. Hopefully we’ve made some resolutions to be better people, hopefully we’ve committed to showing more gratitude, and hopefully we’re all ready for a new beginning. And then we get back to real life, full work weeks, no holiday in sight until Chanukah, and we’re back on the field of life to see how all that Tishrei practice might unfold. And there are bound to be plenty of errors.
It is a little nerve wracking sitting there to watch my son’s Error Ball – er – Baseball team. I know that the hours of catch in the backyard may pay off with a catch at 3rd base. I also know that the ball might just as well go right through his legs, another run for the other team. But here’s the thing, no matter where that ball goes, he comes off the field grinning. “Did you have fun today,” I asked after Sunday’s 23 to 12 loss. “It was great, Daddy,” he replies, “Did you see my RBI?”
Leaving the comfortable rituals and ideals of Tishrei we enter the field of life with a choice. Will we beat ourselves up over the errors we make trying to live up to our Rosh Hashanah resolutions? Will we feel guilty when we do not express gratitude appropriately? Will we allow our anxiety to rise when we do not take full advantage of new beginnings? Or, will we be like the Little League 8-year-olds? I believe that we can learn from those Little Leaguers how to grin knowing that we did our best. We can smile just knowing how lucky we are to be living in this moment, with the people we love, trying our very error-filled best to make this short life as good as we can. Life is a long game of “Error Ball.” We can focus on those errors and spend a full year like every day is Yom Kippur. Or, we can grin and take what good we can from Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, and Simchat Torah and enjoy the hits and sporadic fielding successes in a life that could just as well be called “Error Ball.”