| Second Thoughts |

A versus A: The Epic Struggle

Like sugar or salt, a small dose adds flavor to the day, but overindulgence can have deleterious long-term effects


“Es chata’ai ani mazkir hayom — My transgressions I recall this day” (Bereishis 40:9). Well, perhaps not precisely transgressions, maybe not even misdemeanors, but I do confess behavior that, in today’s chareidi world, is considered inappropriate. I hereby testify publicly that once upon a time I was guilty of such untoward behavior. Today, I am proud to say, such un-chareidi behavior is somewhat mitigated.(Note the “somewhat.”)

What were, and still remain, these unsavory habits?  As a boy and as a young man, I was hopelessly addicted.  Addicted? Yes, but not to drugs or substances, but to major-league baseball, first to the Orioles of Baltimore and then to the Braves of Atlanta. Although I am today mostly recovered from my cravings, there still remains within me a residue in need of detoxification. (As to why baseball and not football or basketball — though one can admire the training, grace and skill that creates any top athlete — that would lead to an arcane discussion of sports, which, in a chareidi journal, it might be circumspect to avoid.)

Granted, there are sins far more cardinal than attachment to sports. It violates no laws, is not even a minor halachic infraction. The problem exists in its downside potential. Given free rein, it can easily become a major distraction from more serious pursuits and an ever-present catalyst for sheer waste of time — which bnei Torah rightfully call bittul zeman. An occasional momentary indulgence is harmless — a glance at yesterday’s scores, a look at the league standings, perhaps a one-minute recap of a crucial game’s highlights — but like sugar or salt, a small dose adds flavor to the day, but overindulgence can have deleterious long-term effects.  If not controlled, it becomes the silent killer of time.  In extreme cases, a team’s losing streak can even engender anger and depression within a true fan, while a long winning streak can brighten the general outlook of that same fan (fan being short for fanatic).

While I have recovered from most of my youthful dependence, certain residues remain lodged in my neurological system. I try to satisfy myself with a quick daily fix that consists only of a fleeting glance at the scores and nothing more. But even that fleeting glance is fraught with risk, because the scores can serve as a trigger for just one more glance, one more look — at starting pitchers, innings pitched, home runs, strikeouts, walks, errors and all the other esoteric paraphernalia that comprise the written and oral lore of every baseball game.

So I am constantly engaged in a struggle. It takes place every morning after I daven and attend a daily Gemara shiur. Once at home, I like to review the shiur and have found that the All Daf website is an excellent vehicle for such review.

But note the first letter of the All Daf website: the letter A. Note also the first letter of the Atlanta Braves website: also, the letter A. When I hit the A key, that letter dutifully appears on the screen, waiting for the next hit. If I press L, it brings me All Daf; if I press T, I am greeted by the visage of the Atlanta Braves.

My finger is poised, at the ready. Something within me pulls it toward the T and the baseball cravings that demand satisfaction. Just for a second, just to see the score and then we return to the L and the Gemara.

But just as the finger is about to hit the T, it hesitates and slides over to the L and to the challenging Gemara. But there, too, it hesitates and slips over to the T, only to hesitate once again and flip back to the L. So it goes each morning, back and forth, a choreograph of pleasure versus conscience, fun versus responsibility that ebbs and flows across my keyboard — a titanic, monumental tug-of-war in which there are no victors or vanquished, and in which today’s winner can be tomorrow’s loser.

Titanic, monumental? Is that not a bit overwrought for a microsecond of innocent temptation? Perhaps so, but my daily bout with baseball could be a paradigm for the less benign temptations that present themselves during the course of each day.

Specifically, if we learn to resist even the relatively innocuous T keys in our lives and instead press the more dutiful L keys, that would indeed be monumental, for it would engender changes that endure far beyond microseconds. Because if big oaks from little acorns grow, so also do big disciplines from minor ones grow.

My morning wrestlings continue, albeit not as intensely. There is less vacillation over the L, and the T is beginning to realize that it can wait. But my recovery and withdrawal are far from complete: I still want to know the score.


(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 916)

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