April 14, 2024
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April 14, 2024
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Consistency and Constancy: A Lesson From Cal Ripken Jr.

Cal Ripken Jr. breaking the record for consecutive games played.

This weekend is the start of Spring Training when hope springs eternal for the 30 Major League baseball teams with the budding of a new season. One unique aspect of baseball amongst the major professional sports is the length of the season, six months of play almost every day. The baseball season is a marathon, not a sprint, with a consistent approach every day much more important than any particular play in any particular game. As the great Mets pitcher Tom Seaver used to say, “In baseball… strive for consistency, [don’t] worry about the numbers. If you dwell on statistics you get shortsighted; if you aim for consistency, the numbers will be there at the end.” This is an apt metaphor for our approach to Judaism.

The Ein Yaakov, in his introduction to his book on the Aggadah of the Talmud, quotes a rabbinic discussion concerning what is the most important verse in the Torah. Ben Zoma says that the seminal verse is: שְׁמַע יִשְׂרָאֵל ה’ אֱלֹקינוּ ה’ אֶחָד, “Hear of Israel, the Lord our God; the Lord is one”. Ben Nanas quotes וְאָהַבְתָּ לְרֵעֲךָ כָּמוֹךָ “Love your neighbor as yourself”, as Rabbi Akiva does in the parallel discussion in the Talmud. Shimon Ben Pazi quotes a verse from this week’s Parsha, Parshat Tetzaveh: אֶת־הַכֶּבֶשׂ הָאֶחָד תַּעֲשֶׂה בַבֹּקֶר וְאֵת הַכֶּבֶשׂ הַשֵּׁנִי תַּעֲשֶׂה בֵּין הָעַרְבָּיִם, “You shall offer one lamb in the morning (as a sacrifice) and one lamb in the afternoon” (Shemot Chapter 29, Verse 39).

My Rebbe in Yeshiva University, Rav Yehudah Parnes, asked the obvious question regarding this passage. If one would take a poll among any group of thoughtful Jews about the most important verse in the Torah, “Shema Yisrael,” our basic tenet of faith in God, and “Ve’ahavta,” to love your fellow as yourself, would be chosen by many respondents. But why the Karban Tamid, the sacrifice brought twice daily in the Mikdash, once in the morning and a second time every afternoon?

Rav Parnes answered by referencing Cal Ripken Jr., the Hall of Fame shortstop for the Baltimore Orioles, who had recently broken the long standing record held by Lou Gehrig for consecutive games played in Major League Baseball.

Why is this record so celebrated in the annals of sports? Because it shows consistency, תמידיות. Cal Ripken showed up to play, every single day, for 2,632 consecutive games, more than 16 seasons. The mitzvah of consistency, to bring a sacrifice to God, the Korban Tamid, twice a day, every day, is so important that Shimon Ben Pazi considers it to be more fundamental to our faith than belief in one God or love of one’s fellow human being. It is the reason why we celebrate those who learn Torah every day, pray daily with a minyan, give tzedakah each day or greet everyone at work or school each morning with a smile.

In fact, Parshat Tetzaveh is filled with this midah; consistency is what bookends the Torah portion. It starts with the Menorah which was lit every day.

וְאַתָּה תְּצַוֶּה  אֶת־בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וְיִקְחוּ אֵלֶיךָ שֶׁמֶן זַיִת זָךְ כָּתִית לַמָּאוֹר לְהַעֲלֹת נֵר תָּמִיד׃

“And thou shalt command the children of Israel, that they bring thee pure olive oil beaten for the light, to cause the lamp to burn always.”

And ends with the Ketoret, the incense, which was burned daily together with the lighting of the Menorah.

וּבְהַעֲלֹת אַהֲרֹן אֶת־הַנֵּרֹת בֵּין הָעַרְבַּיִם יַקְטִירֶנָּה קְטֹרֶת תָּמִיד לִפְנֵי ה’ לְדֹרֹתֵיכֶם׃

“And when Aharon lights the lamps at evening, he shall burn incense upon it, a perpetual incense before the Lord throughout your generations.”

Rashi on the first verse in Tetzaveh points out that there are two types of consistency. The Menorah was kindled every night. Even though it would extinguish by morning and not burn again until the following night, it was considered to be Tamid. This consistency is to do something on a regular basis, to set a schedule and keep to it.

I was recently reading a book by Adam Alter,”Irresistible,” on the challenge of digital addiction in our technological age. He suggested that the key to success in life is not to set goals to be achieved or missed but to put in place a system “on a regular basis that increases your odds of happiness in the long run.” For example, I am passionate about writing and hope to publish a book someday. Rather than start working on my “magnum opus,” an overwhelming task doomed to failure, I try to write a little bit on a consistent basis. I journal. I blog. I write articles like the one you are reading right now. If a writer seeks to write 500 words a day, every day, rather than a chapter or book, this will lead to creative success.

Similarly, in the area of Torah and mitzvot, setting a goal to finish the entire Talmud or Tanach will inevitably lead to failure. And even if one achieves this goal, one will then be stuck with the question, what should I do next. Rather, aspire to learn a daily page of Talmud or a chapter of Tanach every day or the weekly Torah portion. This is not a goal but a system to be carried out every day or every week, as long as it is achievable and done on a regular basis. This is the lesson of the Korban Tamid, a basic tenet of Judaism.

At the same time, there is another type of Tamid which Rashi associates with the Lechem Hapanim, the showbread, which is even more difficult to accomplish. This is constancy. The showbread was on the table in the Temple throughout the week. Even when it was removed every Friday, it was immediately replaced by newly baked bread. There are some mitzvot which one should seek to accomplish constantly, belief in God and loving one’s neighbor as yourself come to mind.

Going back to the Major League Baseball record book, Cal Ripken Jr, is not just a model of consistency but of constancy as well. He accomplished both since he not only holds the record for consecutive games played at 2,632, but also for consecutive innings at 8,243, over 904 games. Similarly, we can aspire to put a system in place to accomplish a mitzvah on a consistent basis. At the same time, we should seek to find our unique way to manifest our Judaism constantly as well. This is our challenge. What is our Karban Tamid? What extra mitzvah can we commit to daily to transform ourselves and those around us?

Rabbi Tzvi Pittinsky is the director of educational technology at Yeshivat Frisch. He can be reached at [email protected].

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