By Rabbi Baruch Epstein
Baseball season is in full swing (sorry couldn’t resist that pun). Of course I know that the World Series is over (Mazel Tov Phillies), I am referring to the player’s favorite part of the year: free agency. Where else can one refer to an offer of $10 million a year to play a game as “an insult”?
For those not in the know: When a player’s contract expires he is a “free agent”; able to hire himself to the team of his choosing. A common refrain heard during the bidding war is “It’s not about the money.” Players claim that their choice involves numerous factors—and it’s not about the money.
Well I believe them. When someone insists on an annual salary of fifteen million instead of fourteen, it’s not because there is something in his projected budget that requires that extra money to purchase; it’s about objective affirmation of value. There are even contracts that stipulate that the player must make more (even by $1) than anyone else on the team.
We can debate all day who the best second baseman is; what is objectively verifiable is who the highest paid player is. The math is very simple: I make more than you, hence I am more valuable than you.
This reminds me of the joke about two men who were hiking when a crazed grizzly began chasing them. Fleeing for their lives one said to the other: “Do you think we can outrun the bear?” His friend replied: “I don’t have to outrun the bear; I just have to outrun you!”
Such a competitive attitude is appropriate on the field, not in the evaluation of self or others. We should never strive to simply be better than the other guy; each one of us must commit to achieving all that G‑d needs specifically from me, regardless of how much more or less I have done than others.
It is only when we lose sight of our personal relationship with an infinite G‑d that we look for finite markers to affirm our progress and value.
On his deathbed, the great Talmudic sage Reb Yochanan ben Zakkai told his students: “I don’t know on which path (in the afterlife) I will be led.”
This great sage and leader of Israel didn’t know whether he was going to Heaven? This was no false humility, he simply had never thought about it, had never paused to grade himself; he was too busy working G‑d’s plan.
Don’t settle for being the best, strive to do your best.
Rabbi Baruch Epstein is a Chabad-Lubavitch emissary to Illinois, and serves as the rabbi of Congregation Bais Menachem. He and his wife Chaya are the proud parents of three daughters.