Tony LaRussa, the famous retired manager of the St Louis Cardinals, wrote a book called One Last Strike. In this book, LaRussa details the story of the Cardinals’ amazing and unlikely run to the World Series in 2011, and offers lessons on leadership based on his experiences. As a manager, LaRussa was famous for his ridiculous attention to detail and this book is true to form. He spends pages and pages elaborating on tiny details of baseball strategy – mind-numbing stuff!
But something funny happens in the book when LaRussa writes about some of the controversial parts of the story. For example, he famously messed up and sent the wrong pitcher in to pitch because of a bad telephone connection. When he writes about this embarrassing mistake, all you get are a few short, unsatisfying sentences. And when he writes about his DUI arrest, once again, all you get are a few sentences.
Is he a hypocrite? He tells us that a leader needs to focus on details, and he apparently remembers every detail of his successes. But when it comes to his own failures, his memory seems to fail him, and all we get are a few lines.
Perhaps nothing in the beginning of the Bible is as shocking as the first murder in the history of mankind. No matter how many times we read the story, Cain’s act of murder remains appalling. You would think that God would use this opportunity to make an example of Cain. The Bible itself says that we should take an eye for an eye, shouldn’t Cain have been punished with death?
But that is not what happens. God allows Cain to live, and instead of death, he is punished with exile and wandering.
Was Cain being let off the hook? He murdered his brother, exile does not seem like a severe enough punishment for such a despicable act.
As a father, I know that little children possess an extraordinary, almost magical, characteristic. Young children have the ability to hit the reset button every five minutes. They could be yelling and screaming about some injustice one minute, and then five minutes later they’ve completely forgotten what just happened. They don’t stew over things. They get upset and frustrated and then they move on.
Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, the founder of the Breslov Hasidic movement, explained that young children hold the secret to a successful approach to life. We generally find it frustrating that we are constantly forgetting things, but Rabbi Nachman says that forgetting is one of the great blessings in life that we simply don’t appreciate; it’s what enables us to move on and start over. If we didn’t forget, we would spend our lives weighed down by memories of our failures.
Based on this explanation we can appreciate Cain’s punishment. God did not punish Cain with the death penalty. Instead, he punished him with something much worse. For the rest of his life, Cain would never be able to settle down. He would never be permitted to “move on” and forget his sin. He lived the rest of his days with his sin directly in front of his eyes, and nothing could be worse than that.
This brings us back to Tony LaRussa. Is he a hypocrite for encouraging us to dive into details and yet refusing to do just that when it comes to his own failings? Maybe so. But Tony LaRussa’s “selective memory” may very well be the secret to his success as a manager. Baseball is famously a game of failure. Even the best players and managers constantly mess up. Tony LaRussa achieved incredible success specifically because he mastered the art of forgetting. He controlled as much of the game as he could, and simply dissociated himself from what he couldn’t control.
The Hebrew month of Elul and the High Holidays are times to remember. They are the times of year set aside for reflecting on our past and remembering our sins. But when they are over, we must master the art of forgetting. We need to learn how to start fresh and not allow ourselves to be weighed down by memories of our past failures. If you do something that you are ashamed of you should apologize to whomever you’ve wronged and apologize to God. But then you have to move on.
There is a time to remember and a time to forget. Now is the time to forget.