Torah at the First Tee
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!
[Adapted by Yerachmiel Tilles from L'CHAIMweekly.org #588]
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