Monday, July 27, 2009

Monday Musings on Sports - Michael Vick, Pete Rose and the train

As regular readers of this blog are aware, the Monday post was usually devoted to sports with highlights and analysis of the Max Kellerman show which formerly aired on 1050 ESPN Radio. As Max has resigned from 1050 and has not yet resurfaced on the NY area radio waves, I have decided to continue the tradition of linking sports to Torah which I believe was an undercurrent of the Max Kellerman show.

During the hall of fame induction ceremonies this past weekend, the inevitable reference was made by at least one luminary to Pete Rose, who is still suffering through his (agreed upon) lifetime ban from baseball due to gambling on the sport. (I am told that Pete Rose actually was in Cooperstown earlier in the week, although my source was unaware of whether Charlie Hustle had stayed through the weekend).

People tend to have rather strong feelings about whether Rose should or should not be banned and whether his betting on games impacted on the integrity (if not the result) of the games. Still, there is no dispute that he was one of the greatest ball players of all times and his records (unlike those of the steroid era) will not be tainted by asterisks.

At the same time as the Rose discussion, came news from the NFL that now that Michael Vick has completed his sentence for dog fighting involvement, the league would conditionally reinstate him after he served a six game suspension. Again, this topic brought up strong feeling on both sides, as the PETA type people (no, I am not referring to the People Eating Tasty Animals group, see generally ) feel that Vick should not be given another chance to play professional football, while others are not of that opinion.

The disputes about whether Rose and Vick can be forgiven for their transgressions and permitted to return to their chosen societies made me think of a story I heard from R' Frand and R' Zev Cohen on two different occasions. As told by R' Frand - there is a boy who when he graduates high school announces to his parents that he wants to see the country. His father argues with him and tells him that he needs to go to college. The son disagrees and is adamant that he wants to travel cross-country. The father then says - if you leave, the door is closed to you forever.

The son leaves and begins to travel across the country, doing odd jobs to make money. Eventually he tires of touring and begins to hitchhike back to the east coast. When he is in Iowa he writes a letter to his mother asking her whether he could return home. He says that he knows that his father was upset, but if he has changed his mind and would allow him back, the son is ready to do so. He asks his mother to hang a white towel from a certain tree that adjoins the train track near his hometown if the father will take him back.

The son eventually gets on the train which will pass by his hometown. However, he is too nervous to look to see if the towel is in tree. He confides in the guy sitting next to him on the train and asks him to look whether there is a towel in the tree. After the train has passed the spot, the boy asks the other passenger whether there was a white towel in the tree. The man responds that there was not one white towel in the tree. Rather, there was a white towel hanging from every limb of the tree.

This story is symbolic of the Jews relationship with Hashem. If we are willing to take the step of genuinely asking for forgiveness, Hashem will welcome us back with open arms.

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