In the movie, Little Big League, a middle school boy, Billy Haywood, inherits ownership of the Minnesota Twins baseball team. Shortly after he becomes owner, he appoints himself as the new manager. This is met with plenty of resistance from the team members who did not believe that Billy, a child with no experience, could lead them to victory. One game, the physically imposing pitcher, John “Blackout” Gatling is struggling with his accuracy. Billy decides to take him out of the game, despite warnings from Mac, his pitching coach that Blackout doesn’t like to be taken out of games. So, the young boy goes out to the mound and meets a man that looks at least twice his size! Initially, Blackout growls at Billy, “Go Away!” After Billy tells Blackout that he is being removed from the game, Blackout again barks at Billy, “You don’t take me out, not if you wanna win!” Billy challenges him. “Why? Do you think [your teammate] Bowers can’t pitch? Do you think that you are the only relief pitcher we got?” The rest of team, now standing around watching this confrontation, eagerly awaits his reply. Blackout tries to take back his embarrassingly prideful comment, and then he stomps his way back to the dugout. Later in the movie Blackout comes back to Billy and tells him that after watching film, he realized that Billy was right about why he was struggling.
In this week’s Parsha, Parshat Va’Era, God promises to Israel to “take you out...save you...redeem you...take you as a people...so that you know that I am the Lord your God, who brought you out from the burdens of the Egyptians/ וְהוֹצֵאתִי... וְהִצַּלְתִּי... וְגָאַלְתִּי... וְלָקַחְתִּי... וִידַעְתֶּם כִּי אֲנִי ה’ אֱלֹקיכֶם, הַמּוֹצִיא אֶתְכֶם מִתַּחַת סִבְלוֹת מִצְרָיִם (Ex. 6:6-7).” The Sfas Emes points out that the whole point of the exile in Egypt, is to realize that God is the One that can and will bring us out. He continues to teach that in all times, we have the potential to stumble and fall into Egypt, which is why we constantly have to remind ourselves of the exodus (it is in the Shma that we say twice a day). For if we can truly remember every day that God is the One that brought us out, then we do not have to go into the narrowness/meitzar/מיצר. But when we forget, and start to think that we are the cause of our own success/“כֹּחִי וְעֹצֶם יָדִי (Deut. 8:17)”, that is when we need to be placed in the meitzar. Narrowness and restriction teaches us the limitations of our ability, and that we cannot be saved without the help of our Redeemer. God chooses to take us as a people, only when we can truly understand that.
In the movie, Blackout thinks he can do everything himself. And it takes being removed from his comfort zone for him to realize that he is human, has faults, and needs outside help. The same can often be true for us. When we are successful, it is easy to think that we are capable of achieving anything. So when we falter a little bit, we continue to assume that we can get ourselves back on track. This week, I invite you to think of an area in your life that could improve. Then, see if you can ask for help. Ask God. Lean on a friend or loved one. It is only through the help of God and each other, that we can get back to where we want to be.
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.