The 1960 World Series was played between the Pittsburgh Pirates (National League) and the New York Yankees (American League) from Oct, 5 – 13. This series is most notable for the game seven, ninth-inning home run hit by Bill Mazeroski, winning the game for the Pirates 10–9, and also winning for them their third World Championship, their first since 1925. Bill Mazeroski became the first player to hit a game winning home run in the seventh game to win the World Series. He became a hero – even today – for that one moment in time –that home run-that he successfully hit.
In July of this year, during the final game of the World Cup Soccer Championship in Johannesburg, South Africa, in which Spain was playing against the Netherlands, Andres Iniesta kicked the winning goal for Spain to capture this prestigious honor and win the game 1-0. He was an unknown before then. That one goal made him a hero – an icon – in his country.
Both these players were presented with an opportunity in their lives – an instant – when they succeeded and became enshrined and lauded throughout their country. One split second that would define their entire lives.
When looking back into our history we often find examples of people being in the right time and place, thus making history that gave meaning and purpose to their entire existence.
The Talmud narrates a story of the great sage Rabbi Chanina ben Tradyon who lived during the terrible times when Jews were forbidden to study Torah, and if caught were executed. Rabbi Chanina defiantly opposed this decree. When he was captured, the Romans wanted to make an example of him and devised a terrible public execution that would cause tremendous suffering and pain to him, as well as his students.
Rabbi Chanina ben Tradyon was sentenced to death by fire, wrapped in a Sefer Torah. To make the fire last longer they placed wet sponges on his heart so that he would have to endure the suffering even longer. As the scrolls were being consumed by the fire, his students asked of him: “Rabbi-what do you see?”
He replied: “I see the scrolls of the Torah burning but the letters are ascending to Heaven.”
A Roman soldier witnessing this heroic display of courage and conviction approached Rabbi Chanina and said: “If I remove the sponges from your heart so that you will die faster, will you promise me a share in the world to come next to you?”
To which Rabbi Chanina responded in the affirmative.
The soldier removed the sponges and he himself leaped into the fire and died with Rabbi Chanina.
A voice emanating from Heaven proclaimed: “The Roman soldier has been granted a share in the world to come.”
The Talmud continues: “Rebbi (Rabbi Yehudah Hannassi), when hearing this story wept and cried out: “Some people are able to acquire a share in the world to come in just one instant.”
Our sages ask: Why was Rebbi crying? Why did this incident move the great Rabbi Yehudah Hannassi to tears- even despair?
One interpretation asserts that Rabbi Yehudah was in essence conveying the idea that one’s life often is defined by one moment – one event, one accomplishment – achieved in his or her entire life. He was lamenting the thought that perhaps that defining moment in his life had passed and he lost the opportunity to eternalize himself. That one precious flash that he was to react to might have been lost forever.
I often think of those moments in my life. The crucial action that I could have taken that would define who I am and what I have achieved during my lifetime. That one spiritual home run that I could have hit or that one sacred goal that I could have kicked; that one time that I should have performed a mitzvah – of giving charity or learning Torah or just helping someone in his or her hour of difficulty; an action that would have impacted my entire life, and that I might have missed while involved in performing the menial tasks of life and living. Have I missed that opportunity?
It is an awesome thought and realization! One that even the great rebbe was unsure if he had achieved!
Rabbi Mordechai Weiss is principal of the Bess and Paul Sigel Hebrew Academy of Greater Hartford. Comments are welcome and may be sent to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.