The greatest baseball movie of all time is objectively Bull Durham. Of course it stars Kevin Costner, and it also co-stars Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins. In the film, Kevin Costner plays a catcher named Crash Davis, who is nearing the end of his career and is asked to play for a minor league team so that he can mentor a future pitching star named Nuke Laloosh (Tim Robbins). One of the last lessons that Crash teaches Nuke, is that to succeed in baseball, one has to have both “fear and arrogance.” How is it that these completely opposite approaches are the key to baseball?
In this week’s Parsha, Parshat Shmini, Aaron’s Priesthood officially begins. Moses says to Aaron, “Draw near to the altar/קְרַב אֶל-הַמִּזְבֵּחַ (Ex.9:7).” The question is, why does Moses have to invite Aaron to step forward in the first place? Rashi explains (quoting a classical Midrash) the need for this interaction. He teaches (SV ad loc.) that Aaron was bashful and afraid to approach the altar. Moses then says, “Why so bashful?!? You were chosen for this!”
The Noam Elimelekh* teaches (SV ad loc.) that the bashfulness that Rashi brings up is an essential character trait for a person to have and that it is a good sign/סימן טוב for a person if he/she has this trait. If one is generally hesitant, then he/she will not be quick to run towards mistakes. Thus Aaron becomes an example for us here as he gives up his confidence. So too, (even, or perhaps especially!) the righteous one/tzaddik/צדיק is always looking inward and seeing in himself/herself room for correction. This perspective trains the Tzaddik to always be entertaining thoughts of return and repentance/teshuva/תשובה. The goal here is not to be anxious all of the time and always feeling in the wrong. The teaching of the Noam Elimelekh is pushing us to constantly engage in self-reflection which will in turn drive us towards personal and spiritual growth.
Yet this cannot be the sole approach. We learn in Pirkei Avot that “the bashful one does not learn/אין הביישן למד (mAvot 2:5).” One should never shy away from asking questions. It is the only way we can learn. Last week we began Passover/Pesah with Seders that are famously oriented around questions and expounding on their answers. The Seders are not the only time to ask. There are no stupid questions. You cannot receive what you do not ask for.
Raise those hands, ask those questions. Constantly reflect on your actions and strive for greatness. This week, let us internalize the lessons of Crash Davis. The secret to success in life, as is baseball, is both “fear and arrogance.”
*Elimelech Weisblum of Lizhensk (1717–March 11, 1787), a Rabbi and one of the great founding Rebbes of the Hasidic movement, was known after his hometown, Leżajsk (Yiddish: ליזשענסק-Lizhensk) near Rzeszów in Poland.
Rabbi Ezra Balser has been the rabbi at Temple Beth Sholom since July 1, 2016. He received his “smicha” (ordination) in June 2017 from Hebrew College while also earning a Master’s Degree in Jewish Studies. He has also received the iCenter's Certification in Israel Education.