Photo Credit: Jewish Press

The 1960 World Series was played between the Pittsburgh Pirates and the New York Yankees from October 5 to October 13, 1960. This series is most notable for the game seven ninth-inning home run hit by Bill Mazeroski, winning the game for the Pirates 10–9, and also winning for them their third World Championship, their first since 1925. Mazeroski was the first player to hit a game winning home run in the seventh game to win the World Series, and he became an instant hero for that one moment in time.

In July of 2010 during the final game of the World Cup Soccer Championship in Johannesburg, in which Spain was playing against the Netherlands, Andres Iniesta kicked the winning goal for Spain to capture this prestigious honor and win the game 1-0. He was an unknown player before then. That one goal made him an icon for his country.

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Both these players were presented with an opportunity in their lives – an instant – when they succeeded and became enshrined and lauded throughout their country. One split second that would define their entire lives.

When looking back into our history we often find examples of people being in the right time and place, and making history that gave meaning and purpose to their entire existence.

The Talmud narrates a story of the great sage Rabbi Chanina ben Tradyon who lived during the terrible times when Jews were forbidden to study Torah, and if caught would be executed. Rabbi Chanina defiantly opposed this decree. When he was captured, the Romans wanted to make an example of him and they devised a terrible public execution which would cause tremendous suffering and pain both for him as well as his students.

Rabbi Chanina ben Tradyon was sentenced to death by being fire-wrapped in a Sefer Torah. To make the fire last longer they placed wet sponges on his heart so that he would have to endure the suffering even longer. As the scrolls were being consumed by the fire, his students asked of him, “Rabbi, what do you see?”

He replied, “I see the scrolls of the Torah burning but the letters are ascending to heaven.”

A Roman soldier witnessing this heroic display of courage and conviction approached Rabbi Chanina and said:

“If I remove the sponges from your heart so that you will die faster, will you promise me a share in the world to come next to you?” To which Rabbi Chanina responded in the affirmative.

He removed the sponges and he himself leaped into the fire and died with Rabbi Chanina.

A voice emanating from heaven proclaimed, “The Roman soldier has been granted a share in the world to come.”

The Talmud continues: “Rebbi (Rabbi Yehudah HaNassi), when hearing this story, wept and cried out, “Some people are able to acquire a share in the world to come in just one instant.”

Our sages ask: Why was Rebbi crying? Why did this incident move the great Rabbi Yehudah HaNassi to tears – even despair?

One interpretation asserts that Rabbi Yehudah was in essence conveying to us the idea that one’s life often is defined by one moment – one event – one accomplishment that they achieved in their entire life. He was lamenting the thought that perhaps that defining moment in his life had passed and he lost the opportunity to eternalize himself. That one precious flash that he was to react might have been lost forever.

I often think of those moments in my life. The crucial action that I could have taken which would define who I am and what I have achieved during my lifetime. That one spiritual home run that I could have hit or that one sacred goal that I could have kicked. That one time that I should have performed a mitzvah – of giving charity or learning Torah or just helping someone in their hour of difficulty, an action that would have impacted my entire life and that I might have missed while involved in performing the menial tasks of life and living.

Have I missed that opportunity?

It is an awesome thought and realization! One that even the great Rebbi was unsure if he had achieved!

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Rabbi Mordechai Weiss has been involved in Jewish education for the past forty-six years, serving as principal of various Hebrew day schools. He has received awards for his innovative programs and was chosen to receive the coveted Outstanding Principal award from the National Association of Private Schools. He now resides in Israel and is available for speaking engagements. Contact him at ravmordechai@aol.com or 914-368-5149.