Ted Williams and Moses

Parshat Eikev    

Dear Rabbi,

The title of this week’s parshah, Eikev, leads me to conclude that the parent, Moses, is responding to his children, the Israelites, when they ask him the question, “Why should we follow your teachings as dictated by G-d?  Moses answer is found in the definition of the key word in this week’s parshah. The Hebrew word eikev, is an adjectival that means "as a consequence" or "because." What parent has not answered a child when asked why he or she should do something with the one word answer, “because”?
Moses once again reminds the people he has led for the last forty years that they better “shape up or ship out”. He tells them that they have been chosen as the children of G-d but they have hardly earned this privilege from their previous behavior during their forty year journey.
With explicit clarity Moses tells the people the following in the Third Parshah at Deuteronomy 9:4-6:
“Do not say to yourself, when the Lord, your God, has repelled them from before you, saying, ‘Because of my righteousness, the Lord has brought me to possess this land,’ and [that] because of the wickedness of these nations, the Lord drives them out from before you.
Not because of your righteousness or because of the honesty of your heart, do you come to possess their land, but because of the wickedness of these nations, the Lord your God drives them out from before you, and in order to establish the matter that the Lord swore to your forefathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. You shall know that, not because of your righteousness, the Lord, your God, gives you this good land to possess it; for you are a stiffnecked people.”
Moses goes on for most of the parshah to try to rally the Israelites to in a sense not “blow” the opportunity they are given with the land they are about to inherit. As I see it, the problem with all of this is that these people are truly “human” and despite what they have already seen, it is hard for them to grasp what Moses has conveyed. After all, except for Moses and a select few, most of the people in his charge have never really been intimate with the Almighty or more precisely blessed with the knowledge that G-d does exist and is here to live up to his end of the bargain if the Israelites live up to theirs.
In a way Moses cannot fully understand his inability to convince the Israelites of what will await them if they just buy into what he is telling them. I truly believe that despite the phrase “all men are created equal”, G-d has taken it upon himself to make certain people “special”. Despite what is thought, some people are smarter than others, or have talents in the arts or sports that set them apart from all others.
The baseball player, Ted Williams, was one of the best hitters the game has ever seen. His records are incredible and if he had not been called to the service in both World War II and the Korean War losing almost five years in his prime, he might hold every record for a hitter. This talent was truly a gift from G-d, but it had its problems. After his playing days, Mr. Williams managed the Washington Senators/Texas Rangers from 1969-1972. Despite some early success, his overall record as a manager was 273 wins as against 364 loses. Like many great players, Williams became impatient with ordinary athletes' abilities and attitudes and he could not understand why others could not play to his standards.
To Moses, it was not difficult to follow the ways of the Almighty but despite his best efforts, he could not convey his zeal to mere mortals of a lesser religious bent and was often frustrated in his efforts. This probably carries down to today’s teachers, rabbis, and I would like your take on what I have just expressed.  



Dear Mordecai,

While the parsha does set up a dynamic between Moses and the Israelites that resembles a parent-child relationship, note that the Haftarah speaks of Zion as G-d’s wife. In any event, messages are often conveyed through the Torah in ways that reflect the importance of certain relationships, primarily family relationships.
Certainly some people have more of a talent for recognizing the existence and concern of G-d than others. Moses is a good example of one who had this special ability.  Ted Williams is another example of someone with special abilities; yet you rightly point out that these special abilities did not serve him well as a manager since he could not show patience to those who didn’t possess his gifts. (I didn’t know he managed the Rangers!)
I think, however, you are wrong about Moses. It wasn’t just that Moses knew how to connect with G-d. He also was capable of enormous mercy and compassion. In fact, this is not incidental. It is built into why he was able to achieve the connection with G-d that he did. Yes, Moses was frustrated and does seem to be reading Israel the riot act at times in Deuteronomy. Nevertheless, I think he was keenly aware of the frailty of the people that he was leading and understood completely why they backslid. If they were punished as a result, it was not because Moses relished punishment but because actions must have consequences for one to come to terms with reality.
Regarding myself, I noticed certain gifts I possessed and one of them was to be able to feel and appreciate G-d’s existence and concern. G-d’s existence alone is not enough. His concern is elemental to understanding Him and Who He is. One key difference between me and Moses is Moses’ age. He was an older man when he began his role. I am younger than most of my congregants so more than anything I have to try to exercise my attribute of humility to recognize that the years of life experience my congregants possess translates into an inordinate amount of wisdom that I must be ready to receive. In short, while I do become impatient and frustrated in my role as rabbi, I counter that with a focus on what I have to learn for I believe the best teacher is an outstanding student. I have much to learn from our congregants! And that is also the answer to why I have invited you into this correspondence.