Shai's big hit
As parents, we all have those moments when we feel that we must have done something right. For instance, your son comes home from yeshiva on Friday after one of Jerusalem's infrequent snow storms and, without being asked, immediately begins shoveling a path between your building and the nearby shul so that an elderly neighbor will not have to risk life and limb that night on an icy pavement.
Far rarer, however, are occasions when a whole group of boys or girls simultaneously demonstrate that their education has penetrated their souls. A few years ago, the father of a boy with severe learning disabilities described one such moment at a dinner for Chush, an Orthodox-run school in Brooklyn for learning disabled children.
He began his speech with a question: If everything G-d does reflects His perfection, where do we see that perfection in a boy like my son Shai, who cannot learn like other children?
He then told the following story:
After studying all week at Chush, Shai attends class at Yeshiva Darchei Torah in Far Rockaway, New York on Sunday. At a time when some yeshivot seek to burnish their reputation by catering only to the brightest boys, Rabbi Yaakov Bender, the principal of Darchei Torah, insists that his school remain a neighborhood school serving boys from across the educational spectrum.
One Sunday afternoon, Shai's father came to pick him up. Some of Shai's classmates were playing baseball, and Shai tugged at his father's sleeve asking, "Do you think they will let me play?" His father knew that because of his motor coordination difficulties Shai could not really play with the other boys. But he saw how much it meant to Shai, and so he decided to approach one of the boys to ask if Shai could join.
The boy hesitated momentarily before nodding his assent. The fact that his team was trailing by six runs in the eighth inning made the decision easier. Nothing Shai would do was likely to affect the outcome anyway. Shai was given a mitt, and went to stand in short center field as his team's tenth player.
Shai's team staged a small rally in the bottom of the eighth, but still entered the ninth inning trailing by three runs. With two outs in the bottom of the ninth, Shai's teammates loaded the bases. The potential winning run was due up. But the next scheduled batter was none other than Shai.
Would his teammates protest that they should not be penalized for letting Shai play and demand to put up the next batter? No. Shai was handed a bat and pointed to the plate.
Shai did not even know how to hold the bat. Recognizing how hard it would be for Shai to hit the ball, the opposing pitcher moved in a several steps and lobbed the ball gently to the plate. Still Shai did not manage to get the bat off his shoulder until the ball was in the catcher's mitt.
Before the next pitch, one of Shai's teammates joined him at the plate to help swing. Once again the pitcher lobbed a soft pitch. This time Shai made feeble contact sending a slow dribbler back to the mound for what looked like the game-ending out.
After fielding the ball, however, the pitcher threw it way over the first baseman into deep right field. Shai's teammates shouted at him, "Run to first, Shai, run to first," as they accompanied him down the first base line.
By the time, the right fielder tracked the ball down, Shai was headed for second, with a wide-eyed, startled look on his face. The right fielder quickly grasped the pitcher's intention. Instead of throwing Shai out at second, he threw the ball way over the third baseman's head.
By now both teams were chanting together, "Run, Shai, run." As Shai passed second base, the shortstop hurried over and turned him in the direction of third.
All eighteen players joined Shai on his triumphal run home, and together they hoisted the hero, author of the game-winning grand-slam, onto their shoulders.
Shai's father was crying by the time he finished telling this story. Now he was ready to answer his original question.
"That day, those 18 boys reached their level of G-d's perfection," he said. "Without Shai, they could not have done it."