The Observant Jew
By Rabbi Jonathan Gewirtz
Losing (the) Streak
As we approach the home stretch of counting Sefira, it brings to mind a topic many people discuss each year. “How long did you make it through Sefira with a bracha?” The idea is that being able to remember each night to count the proper days and weeks of Sefira is challenging to say the least.
People have reminders and messages from other people or automated systems, but those may not help on Shabbos for example. Some keep a sefira chart next to their beds, but if you make a mistake, you may not catch it until it’s too late. So now the streak is over. What do you do?
You keep counting without a bracha, of course, but many find it depressing and upsetting that their streak was broken. That’s why I’m here to say, “Lose the streak!”
For a time, I was using a program to learn Spanish. Each day I had to do a certain amount to qualify as having completed my daily quota. I pushed hard to finish it. I recall a particularly hectic Friday afternoon when I had many things to do but I stood there trying to finish the daily exercises so it would count. I managed to preserve my streak for several weeks. Then, one day, I was told my streak had ended. Why? Because it was too long between my Friday session and my after-Shabbos session. I was incensed! It was still “Saturday” so I should have been allowed to do my Spanish practice and get my credit. But alas, there was no one to talk to about it. My streak ended and so did my enthusiasm about using this program. I stopped practicing and didn’t go back to it.
That’s the problem with a streak. When it’s broken, you don’t have the same sense of urgency to keep going and you may even be turned off to it.
Instead, I’d like to suggest a different measurement of success – the batting average.
The batting average is not a measure of continuity, but rather a measure of consistency. The basic calculation of the batting average is taking the number of hits a player gets and dividing it by the number of times at bat. This is then viewed as a number.
Joe Dimaggio, the famed New York Yankee slugger, set the record for consecutive games in which he had a hit in 1941. He managed to score a hit in 56 consecutive games over the course of two months. But that’s not the whole story.
His batting average for that time period was .408, as he got 91 hits over the course of 223 times at bat. This means that while he was getting a hit in each game, he still DIDN’T get a hit more than half the time he stepped up to the plate.
More than that, Joe Dimaggio’s career spanned 13 years in the Major Leagues and he was an all-star each year, even though he only had a streak in that one brief period.
A person’s success is not built upon getting it right every time, but on going back to bat and continuing to try. The greatest batting averages in baseball history might surprise you. The all-time career high batting average is held by Ty Cobb, who retired 90 years ago. His average was an astounding .367, meaning that he averaged basically one success for every three attempts. Only one for three, and he’s considered the pinnacle of success!
A person who feels that if they didn’t manage to count every night of Sefira their attempt was worthless is forgetting that some of the most-successful people in history were still not successful every time they tried. It wasn’t the streak of successful outcomes that made the difference. The success came from getting up after the failure and taking another shot at whatever they were doing.
Thomas Edison is quoted as saying, “I didn’t fail. I found 2,000 ways NOT to make a light bulb. I only needed one way to make it work.” Each of those failures was a lesson, and not in vain. More than that, the strength exhibited to keep going with something you believe in is worth a lot and should be viewed with pride.
In Koheles (7:20) Shlomo HaMelech says, “There is no righteous man on earth who does good and does not sin.” I’ve heard it explained that though there are several people mentioned in Chazal as not having sinned, they were not the people who changed the world and made a difference. The people who make their mark are the ones who keep trying despite, and because of, failures and faltering. Having a batting average with more misses than hits is fine, if it means you keep on swinging.
As we approach Shavuos and Kabolas HaTorah, let’s try to absorb this lesson and put it into practice: Life is not about hitting it out of the park every time, but picking yourself up, brushing off the dirt, and stepping forward to try it again.
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