Monday, June 2, 2014

Monday's Musings on Sports - The Hockey Playoff Edition

With the Stanley Cup Final match-up finally set, the pundits are already writing off the Rangers' chances of success in winning the Stanley Cup for the first time since 1994. Among the reasons being floated are that the Rangers success was buoyed by the team's rallying around Marty St. Louis after the death of his mother. Some in the media have seen this as a "gimmick", but that is just a cop-out because the writer is too embarrassed to admit that he picked the wrong team to move on in the NHL playoffs.

I am no psychologist, nor do I play one on TV, but I strongly subscribe to the concept that a group of players will rally around a teammate they genuinely like when he experiences personal tragedy. In the case of the Rangers, the rallying around a teammate who experienced loss did not begin with the sudden death of France St. Louis. Indeed, the seeds for the team's bonding began when Dominic Moore rejoined the Rangers after taking a year off to bury and mourn for the loss of his wife who succumbed to cancer in January 2013. The team supported him and even made group donations to the Katie Moore Foundation.

Six months later, the team found itself on the precipice of falling out of the playoff, down three games to one to the heavily favored Pittsburgh Penguins. Then news broke that Marty St. Louis' mother had died suddenly and the team faced the spectre of having to play an elimination game against Pittsburgh without a well respected veteran who had joined the team and provided a stabilizing influence at the end of the season. When the team showed up for game five, they were shocked to see Marty in the locker room and the team came out and played their strongest game of the playoffs. And then the next game was played two days later on Mothers' Day and Marty scored the first goal. Whether or not hollywood could have scripted it better I cannot say. But the team could not have a had better motivating factor, because everyone has a mother and people can relate to wanting to do things to honor her memory.

The issue reminded me of a story that I heard from Rabbi Zev Cohen of Adas Yeshurun when I was in Chicago over Pesach. The story involved R' Meir Shapiro, the formulator of the daf yomi cycle. As related by R' Cohen, soon after the Rosh Hashanah when the first daf yomi cycle began, R' Shapiro received a letter from his sister. She wrote that she had a dream the first night of Rosh Hashanah that their mother was being honored in shamayim and was wearing a crown. The obvious correlation that the sister drew was that because R' Shapiro had initiated the daf yomi cycle that Rosh Hashanah, whereby many people would become a system of learning gemara, their mother was being honored for his actions.

However, R' Cohen explained that there was more to the story. When R' Shapiro was a seven year old boy, his mother hired a tutor to come and learn with him because he was so far ahead of his classmates. 

One day, his family moved from one city to another and his mother arranged to have a new tutor come to their house in the new city on the day that they arrived. After unpacking, the mother sat with young R' Meir waiting for the tutor. As the hours wore on R' Shapiro's mother broke down and started crying. When he asked her why she was crying, she explained - "it's a day without Torah, its a day without learning."

It was this lesson which R' Cohen believed was the motivation for R' Shapiro to begin the daf yomi program so that no day would be without Torah. Is it any wonder that his mother was honored in shamayim because she had inspired her son to create a daily learning program?

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