Sukkot and Sluggers: Life Lessons Beyond the Ballpark

By: Rabbi Yaakov Wolff
September 27, 2023

Great baseball players are often celebrated for their remarkable feats on the field, such as hitting towering home runs, throwing blazing fastballs, or making spectacular defensive plays. However, there exist a few baseball players who have left an indelible mark not only for their athletic prowess but also for their unique accomplishments beyond the actual game. Cal Ripken, known for playing in an astonishing 2,632 consecutive games, never missed a single contest in 16 years. Bo Jackson, an All-Star outfielder, achieved an unparalleled distinction by also excelling as a Pro Bowl running back in the NFL. And Armando Gallaraga, who came agonizingly close to a perfect game, only to have it slip through his fingers due to an umpire’s mistake, displayed remarkable grace and understanding with his response: “nobody’s perfect.” These athletes impart valuable life lessons, and the convergence of these lessons becomes evident on the holiday of Sukkot (Feast of Tabernacles).

On Sukkot, we are commanded to take four species, one of which is a citrus fruit called an Etrog. Although the precise identification of the Etrog is a matter of tradition, the Jewish sages taught that the Etrog tree has three identifying attributes. One is that there are fruit on the tree all year round. The second is that the tree can survive on various sources of water. Finally, not only the fruit but even the branches of the tree have flavor to them.

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch (1808 – 1888) pointed out that these three attributes contain important moral lessons. Having fruit year-round is a sign of unwavering consistency. The ability to survive on different types of water represents versatility. And the flavor in the branches represents internal morality that is consistent with outward expressions.

These are also the three lessons that we learn from the baseball players mentioned above. Cal Ripken taught us how to be consistent; to show up every day and give our best effort. Bo Jackson taught us versatility, performing with greatness on different fields. And Armando Gallaraga taught us the importance of having a good heart that is consistent with our public behavior.

The lessons from these baseball players and the symbolism of the Etrog fruit used on Sukkot converge to offer valuable insights into life. As we celebrate Sukkot and reflect on the symbolism of the Etrog, let us remember the inspiring stories of Cal Ripken, Bo Jackson, and Armando Gallaraga. Just as these athletes demonstrated unwavering consistency, versatility, and internal morality, we too can apply these principles to lead more meaningful and fulfilling lives. These lessons remind us that greatness isn’t just about physical prowess but also about the character we exhibit and the values we uphold.

Rabbi Yaakov Wolff

Rabbi Yaakov Wolff

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