Shaya's Home Run
Paysach Krohn

  

Note:  You've probably seen this one all over the internet or in your e-mail, but it's worth putting here anyway--just picturing this story in my mind makes me feel great, for I know that such things are always possible, and the more we teach our children to do things like this, the more beautiful our world will become.  On the other hand, the version that you've probably seen is a "sanitized" version--one that's had every reference to the story's Jewish origin erased, as you'll find out when you read the original version immediately below the "common" version.  Why did this happen?  To be honest with you, I don't know--it looks like an attempt to get the story to "fit in" with other religions, to make it more "universal."  This attempt is at best ridiculous, at worst insidious.  What's more universal than a group of kids helping out another kid, no matter what their religion?  Changing this story to "fit" someone else's religious reality is an embarrassment to God and to the religion that the person wants it to fit in--stick with the truth, the whole truth, and present it as that.  That's what God wants.

At a fund-raising dinner for a Brooklyn school that caters to learning-disabled children, the father of one child was expected to give a speech extolling the dedicated staff's work.  Instead his opening remarks shocked the crowd of parents and teachers. He cried out: "My son goes to this school, which teaches that everything God does is done with perfection.  But where is the perfection in my son Shaya?  My child cannot understand things as other children do. So tell me, where is God's perfection?"

The audience, shocked by the man's anguished question, hushed.  A few people coughed nervously as the father continued:  "I believe that when God brings a child like this into the world, the perfection He seeks is in the way people react."  The father then told about the afternoon he and Shaya walked past a park where some boys Shaya knew were playing baseball.  Shaya asked, "Do you think they will let me play?"

The father knew that his son was not at all athletic and that most boys would not want him on their team.  Nevertheless, Shaya's father understood that if his son were to be chosen to play it would give him a comfortable sense of belonging.  So the father approached one of the boys in the field and asked if Shaya could play.

The boy looked around for guidance from his teammates.  Getting none, he took matters into his own hands.  "We're losing by six runs, and the game is in the eighth inning," he told the father.  "I guess he can be on our team and we'll try to put him up to bat in the ninth inning."  Shaya's father was ecstatic as Shaya smiled broadly.  A team member told Shaya to put on a glove and go out to play short center field.

In the bottom of the eighth inning, Shaya's team scored a few runs but was still behind by three.  In the bottom of the ninth inning, Shaya's team scored again and now, with two outs and the bases loaded with the potential winning run on base, Shaya was up to bat.

Would the team actually take a chance on Shaya to bat home the winning run?  Everyone knew it was all but impossible because Shaya didn't even know how to hold the bat properly, let alone hit with it.

Yet as Shaya stepped up to the plate, the pitcher moved a few steps to lob the ball in softly so Shaya should at least be able to make contact.  The first pitch came in and Shaya swung clumsily and missed.  One of Shaya's teammates came up to Shaya so together they could hold the bat and face the pitcher.

Again the pitcher took a few steps forward to toss the ball softly.  As the pitch came in, Shaya and his teammate swung at the bat and together they hit a slow ground ball.  The pitcher picked up the soft grounder and could easily have thrown the ball to the first baseman.  Shaya would have been out and that would have ended the game.  Instead, the pitcher took the ball and threw it on a high arc to right field, far beyond reach of the first baseman.  Everyone started yelling, "Shaya, run to first! Run to first!"

Never in his life had Shaya run to first.  So now he scampered down the baseline, wide-eyed and startled.  By the time he reached first base, the right fielder had the ball.  He could have thrown the ball to the second baseman who would tag out Shaya, still running.  But the right fielder understood what the pitcher's intentions were, so he threw the ball high and far over the third baseman's head.  Everyone yelled: "Run to second! Run to second!"  Shaya ran towards second base as the runners ahead of him deliriously circled the bases towards home. Just as Shaya reached second base, the opposing shortstop ran to him, turned him in the direction of third base and shouted, "Run to third."  As Shaya rounded third, the boys from both teams ran behind him screaming:  "Shaya, run home!" Shaya ran home, stepped on home plate, and all 18 boys lifted him on their shoulders.  They made Shaya their hero, as he had just hit a grand slam and won the game for his team.

"That day," said the father softly with tears now rolling down his face, "those 18 boys reached their level of God's perfection."

and the original version:

Perfection at the Plate

Sports in America is not only a multibillion dollar industry, but rare is the child growing up in the United States who has never been involved in some type of sports competition, be it baseball, basketball, punchball, handball, football or hockey. For this reason, people who have grown up in America, both young and old, are swept up and moved as their mind’s eye visualizes the unfolding of these incredible events.

However, it is not only an American that can fully appreciate the intensity of this marvelous “sports” story. This tender story also has universal appeal, because it deals with the universal values of sensitivity, self-esteem, and acceptance.

In Brooklyn, New York, Chush is a school that caters to learning-disabled children. Some children remain in Chush for their entire school careers, while others can be mainstreamed into conventional yeshivos and Bais Yaakovs. There are a few children who attend Chush for most of the week and go to a regular school on Sundays.

At a Chush fund-raising dinner, the father of a Chush child delivered a speech that would never be forgotten by all who attended. After extolling the school and its dedicated staff, he cried out, “Where is the perfection in my son Shaya? Everything that Hashem [G-d] does is done with perfection. But my child cannot understand things as other children do. My child cannot remember facts and figures as other children do. Where is Hashem’s perfection?” The audience was shocked by the question, pained by the father’s anguish and stilled by his piercing query.

“I believe,” the father answered, “that when Hashem brings a child like this into the world, the perfection that He seeks is in the way people react to this child.”

He then told the following story about his son Shaya.

Shaya attends Chush throughout the week and Yeshivah Darchei Torah in Far Rockaway on Sundays. One Sunday afternoon, Shaya and his father came to Darchei Torah as his classmates were playing baseball. The game was in progress and as Shaya and his father made their way towards the ball field, Shaya said, “Do you think you could get me into the game?”

Shaya’s father knew his son was not at all athletic, and that most boys would not want him on their team. But Shaya’s father understood that if his son was chosen in, it would give him a comfortable sense of belonging.

Shaya’s father approached one of the boys in the field and asked, “Do you think my Shaya could get into the game?”

The boy looked around for guidance from his teammates. Getting none, he took matters into his own hands and said, “We are losing by six runs and the game is already in the eighth inning. I guess he can be on our team and we’ll try to put him up to bat in the ninth inning.”

Shaya’s father was ecstatic as Shaya smiled broadly. Shaya was told to put on a glove and go out to play short center field, a position that exists only in softball. There were no protests from the opposing team, which would now be hitting with an extra man in the outfield.

In the bottom of the eighth inning, Shaya’s team scored a few runs but was still behind by three. In the bottom of the ninth inning, Shaya’s team scored again and now with two outs and the bases loaded and the potential winning runs on base, Shaya was scheduled to be up. Would the team actually let Shaya bat at this juncture and give away their chance to win the game?

Surprisingly, Shaya was told to take a bat and try to get a hit. Everyone knew that it was all but impossible, for Shaya didn’t even know how to hold the bat properly, let alone hit with it. However as Shaya stepped up to the plate, the pitcher moved in a few steps to lob the ball in softly so that Shaya should at least be able to make contact.

The first pitch came in and Shaya swung clumsily and missed. One of Shaya’s teammates came up to Shaya and together they held the bat and faced the pitcher waiting for the next pitch. The pitcher again took a few steps forward to toss the ball softly towards Shaya.

As the next pitch came in, Shaya and his teammate swung the bat and together they hit a slow ground ball to the pitcher. The pitcher picked up the soft grounder and could easily have thrown the ball to the first baseman. Shaya would have been out and that would have ended the game.

Instead, the pitcher took the ball and threw it on a high arc to right field, far and wide beyond the first baseman’s reach. Everyone started yelling, “Shaya, run to first! Shaya, run to first!” Never in his life had Shaya run to first.

He scampered down the baseline wide eyed and startled. By the time he reached first base, the right fielder had the ball. He could have thrown the ball to the second baseman who would tag out Shaya, who was still running. But the right fielder understood what the pitcher’s intentions were, so he threw the ball high and far over the third baseman’s head, as everyone yelled, “Shaya, run to second! Shaya, run to second.”

Shaya ran towards second base as the runners ahead of him deliriously circled the bases towards home. As Shaya reached second base, the opposing shortstop ran towards him, turned him towards the direction of third base and shouted “Shaya, run to third!”

As Shaya rounded third, the boys from both teams ran behind him screaming, “Shaya, run home! Shaya, run home!”

Shaya ran home, stepped on home plate and all 18 boys lifted him on their shoulders and made him the hero, as he had just hit the “grand slam” and won the game for his team.

“That day,” said the father who now had tears rolling down his face, “those 18 boys reached their level of perfection. They showed that it is not only those who are talented that should be recognized, but also those who have less talent. They too are human beings, they too have feelings and emotions, they too are people, they too want to feel important.”

* * *

That is the exceptional lesson of this episode. Too often we seek to find favor and give honor to those who have more than us. But there are people who have fewer friends than we, less money, and less prestige. Those people especially need attention and recognition. We should try to achieve the level of perfection in human relationships which the boys on the ball field at Yeshiva Darchei Torah achieved.

Because if children can do it, we adults should certainly be able to accomplish it as well.

The story was published on one site (http://www.snopes2.com/glurge/chush.htm) with this critique following it:

Origins:   The story given above is Perfection at the Plate, a work of Rabbi Paysach Krohn. It appeared in his 1999 book, Echoes of the Maggid. Echoes is a "Chicken Soup for the Soul"-type book, described by its publishers as "heartwarming stories and parables of wisdom and inspiration." It is the fifth such tome in the "Maggid" series. Rabbi Krohn says that the story is true and that he was told it by Shaya's father, who is a friend of his. (The "Chush" school mentioned in the piece is the Jewish Center for Special Education on Kent Street in Brooklyn, a school that caters to Yiddish-speaking children of Orthodox Hasidic Jews. )

The true value of any inspirational tale lies not in its veracity (or lack thereof) but in its ability to move those who read it to improve some facet of themselves. As with many other glurges, we find this story's premise a poor one, and its message one likely to do more harm than good.

What to make of an incitement to treat the disabled to a pat on the head instead of granting them acceptance for who they are, even when that means accepting the limitations placed upon them by their infirmities? Has a disabled child who has been conditioned to believe he's good at baseball somehow been helped, or has he been set up for a greater hurt when he comes to realize he's been made the object of pity and an accomplishment he'd been praising himself for was just a sham?

Not everyone reacts well to having the rules of life changed on them in mid-game, so to speak. An experience from my sister's pre-school days might help illustrate this point.

As was my sister's wont, some mornings she would toddle after our brother when he headed off to school. She was always greeted warmly by the teacher and set down with crayons and paper to draw pictures (a ruse to keep her quiet) while the rest of the children went on with their lessons. When she proudly presented her drawings to the teacher, they never fail to earn gold stars, sometimes even rows of them! (According to our brother, she was never shy about demanding more stars. Loudly.) Her interruptions and demands were always immediately addressed, and the class learning to regard her as a lovable, if annoying, mascot who showed up every now and then but mercifully never stayed long. ("But always too long," our mortified brother would report.) When she tired of scribbling, singing, and cavorting, my dear sis would toddle back home, secure in the knowledge that this mysterious "school" thing was all sorts of fun, and it would be even more fun when she was grown up enough to be part of it officially.

That view changed on her very first day as a real student. Riding on the bus was fun, but nobody acted all that delighted to see her when she got to school. Worse, there were no gold stars for anything she did. When she piped up to sing a song, the teacher actually shushed her (something nobody at home dared to do). She was told to stay in her seat instead of running around the room as she usually did. When she demanded crayons, she was told it was time to do lessons and that in future she had to put her hand up when she wanted something instead of just screaming it out. Confused and fed up, she tried to leave, but the teacher sat her back down! She was then told she couldn't leave, that she had to stay there for the whole day. Worse, she was told that if she didn't behave, she'd be taken to the principal. (She wasn't exactly sure what that was, but it sounded impressively ominous.)

That confused little girl grew up to be a young lady who dropped out of school in eighth grade. She never got over the idea that teachers lived to pick on her and that all these rules they came up with served no purpose other than to make her life miserable. Maybe a different beginning might have led to a different outcome: a brilliant, creative girl going on to complete high school and maybe even university. Maybe. But we'll never know because the other what-might-have-beens were killed with kindness before they even had their chance.

As funny a story as my sister's experience may be, the pain she experienced was real. What that child went through shouldn't be visited upon another, especially upon one already burdened with limitations. Kindness is all well and good, but not when the expression of it sets up the recipient for greater harm later. The less abled don't require our pity -- they want acceptance, to be seen as viable and valuable members of the world. Lying down for them doesn't accomplish this; it just reinforces the belief they can't succeed on their own.

Can a disabled child hit a baseball as well as a perfectly-abled one? No. But can that same child learn to work within his disabilities to the point of achieving real accomplishments he can take honest pride in? Absolutely. And that beats all the pity-driven home runs in the world.

Barbara "killed with kindness" Mikkelson

  
   


 
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