Thursday, January 13, 2011


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Beshalach

9 Shevat 5771/January 16, 2011

If you were to ask any good American who Ted Williams was they would undoubtedly reply that he was one of the greatest hitters in the history of Major League Baseball. Until a week ago, that is. Suddenly there is a new Ted Williams flooding the news, who has captured the attention of the nation. A man, who once had a good life, including a wife and nine children, and a job in radio, destroyed it all because of drugs and alcohol. He ended up on the streets homeless and destitute. Over the years he was arrested numerous times for theft and drugs. In his police dossier his place of residence is listed as “Streets of Columbus”. Last week, as he was standing at a busy intersection in Columbus soliciting money he held up a sign which read, “I have a G-d given gift of voice. I’m an ex-radio announcer who has fallen on hard times. Please! Any help will be gratefully appreciated. Thank you and G-d bless you.”

A journalist with the Columbus Dispatch took a video of him standing on the corner and saying a refrain in his deep baritone ‘radio voice’. The video was posted online and instantly became a sensation with millions of viewers. Literally overnight the man who was homeless for over a decade was catapulted into instant fame. He was invited to appear on numerous talk shows, and offered substantial contracts, including becoming a radio announcer with the Cleveland Cavaliers and an advertising gig with Kraft.

It struck me that this extraordinary story is - in a sense - actually the second such story in a matter of three months. It is the second story of someone(s) who was in the most precarious and unstable situation, literally at rock bottom, who almost overnight was hoisted into the heights of fame and the world’s conscience. In October the world held its breath as thirty-three Chilean miners were incredibly pulled out of their potential mass tomb into the anticipating eyes of much of the world. Now a similar drama has unfolded with an individual who destroyed his life getting a second chance.

On the Today Show, Mr. Williams was asked why this time would be different. Why he was confident that this time it would he would not make the same mistakes? He replied that this time G-d was in his life, whereas last time he never included G-d in his endeavors.

No one can really know whether Mr. Williams really will stick to his newfound resolution when the limelight fades and daily life sets in (though it’s surely a different daily life now). But the question always is “What did you do with it?” Every now and then we are granted newfound blessing and new opportunities. In the timeless words of Mesillas Yesharim (chapter 1), “For all the matters of the world, good or bad, are tests for man, poverty on the one hand and wealth on the other.”

This is part of the reason why the holiday of Succos is celebrated right after Yom Kippur, although it logistically should be after Pesach. On Yom Kippur we merit a tabula rasa, a new beginning to start again and reaffirm ourselves to our goals and aspirations. The holiday of Succos is over a week-long to give us time to acclimate ourselves and to plan ahead how this year will truly be different.

A close friend of mine often asks me if I bought a lotto ticket when the lotto reaches epic amounts, such as last week’s 325 million dollars. I always reply that it’s too much money. Believe me, I’d be happy to win the lottery, but winning too much too quickly is extremely dangerous. Just look at what happens to most lotto winners five years later. The statistics are frightening!

Whenever anything occurs to us in life, it all boils down to one question: “What did you do with it?” Best of luck to Mr. Williams. Let’s hope that this time he doesn’t strike out!

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

R’ Dani and Chani Staum