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I really wanted the Houston Astros to lose the World Series! It wasn’t simply because I’m a disgruntled and resentful Yankees fan, and wanted to see the team that ousted the Yankees get beaten (though that may have also been true). I had a much better reason: If they had won, it would have messed up this article. I told my students that I had a great thing to tell them, but it was contingent upon the Astros losing the World Series.

As Game Seven was being played on Wednesday evening and the Astros jumped ahead 2-0, I felt despondent. But the baseball gods intervened, and the once unimaginable happened, when the Washington Nationals prevailed over the Houston Astros and won the World Series.

During the Major League Baseball season that just ended, there were four teams that had more than 100 losses: the Kansas City Royals (103), the Florida Marlins (105), the Baltimore Orioles (108), and the Detroit Tigers (114). However, this was not the first time four teams had so many losses; it also occurred in 2002. What was unprecedented, however, was that there were four teams that won more than 100 games this season: the Minnesota Twins (101), the New York Yankees (103), the Houston Astros (107) and the Los Angeles Dodgers (106).

Incredibly, none of those four teams won the World Series. They were all ousted in the Playoffs or in the World Series.

The Washington Nationals on the other hand, were hardly considered to be post-season contenders. They began their season with an abysmal 19-31 record, and many fans wanted their manager to be fired. They made the post-season by the skin of their teeth, beating the Milwaukee Brewers in the wild-card game. Then, when they were six outs away from losing the World Series, their bats came to life and the Nationals stunned the mighty Astros 6-2. It’s the first time a World Series has been won in the nation’s capital since the Washington Senators won the World Series in 1924.

I’m not a Washington fan, so why did I care about their Cinderella-like saga? Because being in the world of education, it symbolizes a vital truth that can’t be stressed enough: that ultimately the hundreds don’t matter. Sure, students should aim to do their best and strive to score high grades on their tests and report cards. But, too often, students and parents get too caught up in grades and numbers and forget that success is far deeper than grades.

Last year, there was an infamous scandal involving many wealthy parents who cheated, bribed, and lied in order to get their children admitted into ivy-league schools. (It is reminiscent of the Dor HaHaflagah in Parshas Noach. When constructing their massive tower, the project became more important than the individuals involved in its construction. If a brick fell, they would be very disappointed; but if a person fell to his death, they were apathetic. When the project becomes more important than the people, there’s a serious problem. Being able to brag about their children’s schools became more important than truly addressing their children’s academic and personal needs.)

Academic success hardly reflects how one is doing internally. Ultimately, in life, it’s the part of ourselves that is not visible to others that comprises our true essence and is the real barometer of how we are doing. To penetrate the external veneer and get to know the real essence of a person takes time, concern, and fostering trust.

Any adult knows former classmates who no one thought would amount to much, and yet have become greatly successful in life. Conversely, many students who aced every test without trying, and never had to invest effort and time, tragically became failures in life.

This is even truer in the world of spiritual growth. Although, because of the way our educational system is set up, we can’t do away with exams in limudei kodesh, we need to be cognizant and remind our children that grades surely don’t determine success in Torah and spiritual growth. To become a proficient scholar, there is no substitute for effort and diligence. One must strive for aliyah (growth) and then invest to achieve it.

The 2019 baseball season reminds us that success is more the product of one’s drive, determination, resilience, and perseverance than it is about grades and marks.


Rabbi Dani Staum, LMSW, is a rebbe and guidance counselor at Heichal HaTorah in Teaneck, NJ, Principal at Mesivta Ohr Naftoli of New Windsor, and a division head at Camp Dora Golding. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Looking for periodic powerful inspiration? Join Rabbi Staum’s new Whatsapp group “Striving Higher.” Email for more info.