When I lived in the United States, I taught high school students and adults. In Israel, I also teach sixth grade middle school students, which I find very problematic. The kids often behave like kindergartners uttering distracting irrelevancies like “he is sitting in my chair” or “he hit me first,” thereby preventing me from teaching and preventing more serious students from learning. They try my patience as I try to teach them reading comprehension, grammar, and literature. In truth, my greatest challenge in teaching them is not transmitting the material but in not losing my cool when I am confronted with their silly and immature behavior. I recognize that if I lose my temper, I will no longer be fit to teach them. As the classic Jewish text of wisdom literature, The Ethics of the Fathers, states, “an intemperate person cannot be a teacher.” Teaching requires a calm demeanor for a teacher to be successful.
I was reminded of this as I was watching A League of Their Own, an entertaining film about the first ever women’s professional baseball team. Created during World War II when many of baseball’s stars enlisted in the Armed Forces to fight Hitler and Nazi Germany, the new league was intended to keep interest in baseball high by allowing women to play, thus generating excitement among fans and more revenue for owners.
The teacher in this story is Jimmy Dugan, the manager of the Rockford Peaches. A former baseball star with many home runs to his credit, he is now an alcoholic down on his luck. He has never coached girls before and takes the job because the only expectation of management is that he come out of the dugout and wave to the fans. When, after many weeks of ignoring his managerial responsibilities towards the team, he does attempt to give direction to the team, he is impatient with them and unforgiving when they make mistakes. His harsh and sarcastic tone demoralizes one player who breaks down in tears, to which Jimmy sarcastically and angrily responds: “There is no crying in baseball.”
As the season wears on and Jimmy becomes more empathetic as a human being, he tries very hard to control his temper. He eventually understands the words of an umpire who once admonished him when he saw Jimmy treating a player badly: “Perhaps you chastised her too vehemently. Good rule of thumb: treat each of these girls as you would treat your mother.” Jimmy finally accomplishes this. In spite of his disappointment, anger, and frustration when a player makes an error in a critical game, Jimmy uses all of his psychic energy to control his response. It is a triumph of will over emotion, and we admire his supreme effort.
In life we constantly are faced with these kinds of tests, in the home and at the workplace. Our Sages tell us that the truly strong man is not the one with these biggest muscles or the most deadly weapon. Rather it is the one who is able to control his emotions. A League of Their Own offers as an object lesson in self-control in the character of Jimmy Dugan, who with determined effort overcomes an insensitive and boorish past to become a man of feeling, devoted to the well-being of his charges. His prayer with the girls in the locker room before the championship game expresses his new found wisdom: “Lord, hallowed be Thy name. May our feet be swift; may our bats be mighty…. And God, these are good girls, and they work hard. Just help them see it all the way through.”