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BATTER UP

by Danny Miller    
Torah from Dixie Staff Writer    

Scenario #1: You timidly step up to the plate. You feel the sweat of you palms against the wood and the fast beating of your heart. Ace pitcher Tom Glavine gets the signal, then throws a blazing fastball right toward you. You see a blur coming at you and you silently whimper as you wonder how many ribs it will crack.

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Scenario #1: You timidly step up to the plate. You feel the sweat of you palms against the wood and the fast beating of your heart. Ace pitcher Tom Glavine gets the signal, then throws a blazing fastball right toward you. You see a blur coming at you and you silently whimper as you wonder how many ribs it will crack. Before you have time to move the bat from your shoulder, you hear the pop of the ball in the catcher’s mitt. Your pulse increases. Strike one.

Scenario #2: You strut confidently up to the plate. Before taking your stance, you point to the center field wall with your bat. The pitcher concentrates intently, readies, and gives it all he’s got. Almost effortlessly, you swing at just the right time, and you admiringly watch as your ball soars well over the fence just at the precise spot where you had just pointed. A perfectly executed plan. Which scenario would you choose?

A dear friend of mine recently shared an analogy that life is like a baseball practice. The goal is to improve your baseball-playing skills, to work at becoming the best you can be. Let’s say that you are given a choice between attending training camp with the best players in the game or with a group of children in little league. By joining the professionals, you know that you will fare poorly: You will rarely hit the ball, you will have trouble keeping pace, you will feel tremendous frustration, you will be beaten every time. By joining the kids, you are certain to be the star: You will hit the home runs, you will be the MVP, you will be admired.

However, by taking the easy route, you will not be accomplishing your mission. It may feel good to succeed, but you will not improve your game, and you will not become a better player from the experience. By choosing the challenge of competing with the experts, you will have a chance to achieve your goals, to become the best you can be. Though not as satisfying at the moment, clearly this is the wiser choice.

No one knew this better than our forefather Abraham. This week’s Torah portion begins with Hashem instructing him to leave his birthplace and venture into uncharted territory. This must have been a frightening proposition for him. He would have to give up the surroundings that were so familiar to him. He was a wealthy man and it must have seemed tempting to choose to stay and live a life of comfort, of success, of home run after home run. The Talmud explains, in fact, that Abraham went through 10 heart-wrenching trials during his lifetime. With each one, he was faced with having to decide whether to take the easy route or the difficult path. With each one, he needed to decide whether to put himself in a vulnerable position, in which he would have to struggle, face pain, and risk failure. He passed them all, choosing to sacrifice his comforts and his prestige in order to grow as a person and develop a closer relationship to his Creator.

Why was Abraham put through so many tests? The commentators explain that Abraham would not have reached his stature without these trials. Looking back on his life, how would Abraham have viewed his hardships? Would he rather have hung out in Charan with his family eating berries and enjoying his wealth? He was grateful for being put through these trials, since it enabled him to achieve a higher level of closeness with Hashem. He understood that this was the primary purpose of life, not to maximize one’s comfort and happiness.

As we are faced with difficulties in life, we can gain inspiration from Abraham to remember that sometimes we can better achieve our ultimate goal by going through hardships. Without life’s challenges, how much opportunity do we really have to improve ourselves? Perhaps by playing with the professionals, by being humiliated with strikeout after strikeout, we actually have the opportunity to grow, to improve our souls, and to strive towards achieving life’s true purpose.

Before Glavine’s next pitch, he pauses, and shouts a piece of advice: "Don’t be afraid of the ball, keep your eye on it. I won’t hit you." The batting coach runs over to you and gives you a pointer or two. You say a silent prayer to the Creator of the universe for help getting through this challenge. As the lightening-fast speed ball heads your way, you close your eyes and venture forth. Somehow, to your surprise, the bat makes it over the plate, and, shocked, you feel it make contact with the ball. A tremendous sense of accomplishment swells inside -- even as you realize that the ball barely dribbles its way to the pitcher’s mound. Mission accomplished. As you head back to the dugout, you realize that you are a better person for the experience.

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Danny Miller writes from Atlanta.

You are invited to read more Parshat Lech Lecha articles.

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