I’ve heard it said that women are born with their husband’s minhagim/customs, but they don’t know what they are until they marry. Now, I don’t know how that works for people who get divorced, remarried, or never marry Rachmana Litzlan, but I had a similar experience when I married.
You see, when I got married, I found out which sports teams I was a “fan” of. Growing up in Connecticut I sort of followed the New England Patriots, but they were really from Boston so it felt rather distant. Moving to New Orleans the year the New Orleans Saints lost fifteen games and their only victory was in a blizzard against the New York Jets, I was hard-pressed to become a fan in my new locale.
As it turned out, I wasn’t much of a sports fanatic and didn’t really follow any team. Then I got married, and my wife was a fan. Her father often apologized for making his kids into NY Jets and Mets fans. By default, I had to root for those teams, but at least I didn’t have to go full-fledged into it. My interest in sports is usually limited to what’s going on during the actual game, and football interests me more than baseball because that’s what we played during recess at school as a kid in Louisiana.
I happened to hear it was the World Series during game three or four out of seven, and a few days later, when a fellow showed up to shul for Mincha in a circa 1980’s Houston Astros jersey the day after they’d won, I was inspired to write this article. You see, there was an interesting twist to this story which had been covered in many news outlets.
It seems that in 2014, Sports Illustrated, the pre-eminent sports magazine in the country (I imagine), published a cover predicting that in 2017 the Houston Astros would win the World Series. People were shocked at such a prediction since the Astros had such a bad team in those days. Now, when they’d done it, the newscasters were amazed that the prediction had come true. I had to know more.
Finally, it was explained that having been losing for so long, the Astros management had decided to put money into building a championship team even though it might take a few years. Therefore, 2017 was the year of the prediction.
When I heard that, I realized it wasn’t such a far-fetched prediction at all. In fact, it’s a Gemara. In Meseches Megilla (6b) R’ Yitzchak says, “If someone tells you ‘I tried but didn’t succeed,’ or ‘I didn’t try and succeeded’ don’t believe him. If he says, ‘I tried and I succeeded,’ believe him.” In other words, if you make the true, proper effort, you are most-likely going to find success.
Even though the Gemara clarifies that this only applies to Torah and other things are Siyata D’Shmaya, Divine Assistance, since HaShem mostly runs the world through the laws of Nature He established, working with those rules in mind is likely to help you achieve your goals.
That would have been enough, but in researching this topic diligently, I tracked down the original article from 2014. I managed to slog through it, skimming over most of the true fanatic-sportsy-statistical-tech-ese, and found a couple of interesting things.
The first is that it wasn’t really a prediction that the Astros would be the World Series champs in 2017. What the cover actually said is that the team was using unconventional means to build a team that would be the 2017 champions. Not that it would happen, but that they were doing it. The 2017 number was taken from a quote from the Houston General Manager Jeff Luhnow who said, “When you’re in 2017, you don’t really care that much about whether you lost 98 or 107 in 2012. You care about how close we are to winning a championship in 2017.” Not winners, but how close.
The second was that the way they approached it was by following strict mathematical and statistical probabilities. One of the heads of this analysis was a former Black Jack dealer at a casino. He explained that when you have 16 showing against the dealer’s 7 (the goal being to get closest to 21 without going over) the right thing to do is to hit and take another card. Sometimes though, that might not seem the safest or best way to bet according to the human brain. The choice the Astros made was to follow the statistics 100% of the time – and it worked.
Reading this made me think about the Torah. HaShem already gave us all the rules of the game. He told us what to do and what not to do, where, and when. Sometimes, it may seem to us, looking through our human perspective, that it’s a losing proposition like taking another card and risking going bust. However, by dogged determination and commitment to doing it right, regardless of their “feeling” of what was right, the Astros achieved the pinnacle of their sport in a very short time-frame.
Astros means, “Of the stars.” Klal Yisrael is compared to the stars. Perhaps the final message from all of this is that by working towards a better future, and thinking about where we will be and what we will be; combined with following the guidance of HaShem even when we don’t fully understand it, we, too, can be world champions – and we won’t need a magazine cover to amaze people.
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