Jews & Sports

from Big Mo's Sports Desk

Torah at the First Tee

Steve Hyatt

Eighteen months ago I took up the game of golf for the first time. I wanted some balance in my life and in golf I found a way to get my mind off my work and have some fun at the same time. Since that first exasperating round of 136, my total scores have continued to shrink. Through hard work and practice I had lowered my score to a consistent 105. A round of 100 was clearly within my grasp. It has been said that only 10% of the people who play golf ever break 100. After shooting 105 on several occasions I now firmly believed that I was capable of doing what most golfers never do, shoot a 99!

Recently I received a call from my good friend and co-worker EJ Mitchell and he asked me if I wanted to join him for a round of golf at a local course he had discovered in our hometown of Salem, Oregon. Never one to turn down an invitation to play this humbling game, I gratefully accepted. He picked me up in his green SUV and we drove a few short miles to the course. It was a beautiful summer day in Oregon; cobalt blue sky, 75 degrees, zero percent humidity and majestic green fir trees stood guard on the hills surrounding the course.

As we walked to the first tee I felt great. I was loose and ready to play. I was dressed to the nines; coordinated blue golf shirt and slacks, 1999 University of Connecticut "NCAA Basketball Champions" baseball hat and red argyle socks. I looked and felt like a "golfer."

As I made my way to the first tee I looked down and saw an unbelievable sight. There, lying at my feet was a genuine Taylormade leather 3-wood, head cover! Now those of you who don't play the game are probably scratching your head saying, "yeah, so what?" I'll tell you what! A leather Taylormade 3-wood head cover is quite the little treasure and very expensive to purchase. My first inclination was to say, "All right, today is MY lucky day." I wanted to stealthily stick it into my golf bag and run back to the car. And that's exactly what I was about to do until young Dovi Vogel's bright shining face suddenly appeared before my eyes.

Allow me to digress for a moment. Several years ago I was seated in "my usual" chair at the Vogels' Shabbat table in Delaware, munching on the Rebbitzen's mouth-watering kugel when Rabbi Vogel asked his children to discuss the week's Torah portion of Ki Teitzei. Eight-year old Dovi sat down like a mench and discussed the text in great detail. He carefully explained the rules governing what actions we should take when we find an object that may belong to another person. His articulate discussion of the nuances of the verses affected me deeply. His words made me reexamine my own belief system and question how I viewed my personal responsibilities in life and dealt with temptations of all kinds.

It continually amazes me how G-d works. Several years ago I listened to a meaningful discussion between a young boy and his father, a discussion that millions of Jewish parents and children have conducted countless times for thousands of years, and yet I couldn't help feel that this particular discussion was orchestrated specifically for me. When Dovi completed his Torah "lesson" he smiled and left the table to chase his brother Avremale around the room.

As I stood at the first tee clutching the "treasure" in my hand, Dovi's words reverberated in my ears. I had a choice to make. I could stuff it in my bag and quietly walk away. No one would ever know I had found it. Or, I could turn it in at the Pro Shop and hope the owner would drop by and ask if anyone had turned it in.

This was a personal moment of truth. Was Torah finally a guiding force in the fabric of my life and an intricate part of my value system or was it something I conveniently pulled out every Shabbat so I'd have something to talk about with my friends at Shul. In the end there was no real conflict. I turned around and walked the fifty yards to the Pro Shop. I walked through the door, stepped up to the counter and turned that brand-new, leather, Taylormade, 3-wood, head cover over to the employee on duty. I told him I had found it by the first tee and the distressed owner would probably stop by later to see if anyone had turned it in.

I walked back to the first tee satisfied that I had done the right thing. I had followed one of G-d's commandments and made the correct effort to try to return the property to the rightful owner. I know this is selfish but I was overwhelmed with happiness that I had made the right choice. No one else knew. But it didn't matter, because I knew.

As I watched my buddy EJ tee off I couldn't help but smile. Years before, sitting quietly at the Shabbat table, I observed a traditional Torah discussion between a parent and child. Who would have imagined that the child's explanation that evening would influence my actions years later on the first tee of a golf course. I couldn't help but ponder how miracles come in all shapes and sizes. Some involve the parting of the sea of reeds so a chosen people can leave a life of bondage and begin a new life on their way to the Promised Land. And some are as simple as a young boy sharing his thoughts on a section of Torah, which would in the years to come illuminate a small part of the world thousands of miles away from his home.

Oh, by the way, did I mention that I shot a 96 that day! Coincidence? I think not!

Thanks Dovi.


[Adapted by Yerachmiel Tilles from L' #588]


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