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The $13 Million Seder

April 12, 2016 | by Rabbi Benjamin Blech

Baseball player Adam LaRoche's stunning lesson about family and its connection to Passover.

Passover is all about family. The Seder concentrates on the children. The focus of the holiday is on strengthening the bond between one generation and the next. The children ask, the parents respond – and the result is everlasting and priceless memories.

But if you were forced to put a price tag on those precious moments that create family ties, would you be willing to say they’re worth $13 million?

That was the amazing test faced by a professional major league baseball player just a few weeks ago – and his stunning response was a lesson with profound meaning for every one of us.

It happened to Adam LaRoche, a veteran who played 12 seasons in the majors, previously for the Washington Nationals and more recently for the Chicago White Sox. Adam came to spring training expecting to continue a tradition of long-standing, so important to him that it was included in his contract. He was a father who homeschooled his son Drake and took him along to the clubhouse frequently so that he could be a father figure regularly overseeing his son’s growth to maturity.

For Adam, spending time with his son was at least as important as reaching fame in his field of athletic expertise, a profession which had the added bonus of being extremely rewarding financially. And so Adam made sure that Drake would be with him as much as possible. He taught Drake discipline and responsibility by encouraging him to help out in the clubhouse and filling the role of the bat boy. Best of all though, Adams efforts gave them both the opportunity to spend time together – to foster the kind of relationship that ensures understanding, love and respect between two generations.

Drake was the team’s mascot and the other players enjoyed having him around. It isn’t uncommon for some players to bring their sons to the clubhouse, especially someone like Drake who is now a teenager. For more than a few players it’s part of baseball tradition. But in spring training this year the Executive Vice President of the Chicago White Sox had a change of heart about the boy’s presence with the players. Adam LaRoche was told he could no longer bring Drake to the ballpark at all.

As Adam LaRoche put it, “I had to make a decision. Do I choose my teammates and my career? Or do I choose my family?” Adam had a year to go on his contract which would pay him $13 million for the season. He could resign and forfeit that money, or he could accept the new limitation on his relationship with his son.

LaRoche said the decision was easy. “Of one thing I am certain: we will regret not spending enough time with our kids, not the other way around. This was likely to be the last year of my career, and in no way was I going to spend it without my son.”

On Passover we are meant to acknowledge that our families come first.

So Adam LaRoche won’t be playing this season. He chose family over fame and fortune.

But this is far more than just a story about a ballplayer and his once-in-a-lifetime test of the value of a father-son relationship. As Passover likes to remind us, all of us need to reflect on the importance of making the right decision when it comes to a choice between our career or our family, between the growth of our portfolios or the progress of our children.

As the Jews were about to leave Egypt and for the first time identify as a nation, God commanded them to come together individually in their respective homes – not in a temple or synagogue – and share in a religious ceremony which would bond them as families. Only after that could they then become Am Yisrael – the people of Israel.

For thousands of years, every Passover we ensure our future by re-creating the only guarantee for our survival. We have a meal in which we talk to our children. We join in a Seder at which we discuss who we are and where we came from. We inspire our children and talk about our values. We have a warm and open relationship with our children based on honest dialogue, on frank discussion, on meaningful questions and answers. We need to join in a Seder because it is a paradigm of a warm and loving family.

Passover is our first historic step to peoplehood. On Passover we are meant to acknowledge that our families come first – and if we don’t recognize that we are still enslaved as much as we were in Egypt. Slaves to taskmasters who come in the form of careers which demand 24/7 obedience. Slaves to taskmasters offering obscene monetary compensation at the price of distancing ourselves from our loved ones. Slaves to taskmasters who force us to choose the profane over the sacred, the insignificant over the truly important.

Too bad that one of the wealthiest men in the world didn’t learn this lesson until it was too late. Sam Walton was the multibillionaire CEO of Wal-Mart, the fourth largest U.S. corporation. As he was lying on his deathbed, he struggled to get out his last three words on earth. He had given his life for his business. In that area, he succeeded beyond anyone’s wildest dreams. Yet, it was at a price. He hardly spent any time with his wife, his children, and his grandchildren. He didn’t allow himself the moments of loving interaction, of cuddling a grandchild on his lap, of playing and laughing and rejoicing with his loved ones. His final three words? “I blew it!” He had the billions, but by his own admission he had failed.

At the Seder, surrounded by family, we continue the tradition of old. We celebrate a holiday dedicated to the ideal of freedom – the freedom which comes from making the right choice between the slavery of the marketplace and the sovereignty of our home and our loved ones. Like Adam LaRoche, we too know that is worth far more than $13 million.

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