Steroids and Spirituality

Guest post by Yerachmiel Goldstein.

During the summer of 1998, long before the American public became aware of his steroid use, I had visions of myself emulating Mark McGuire. As a ten year old kid, I saw myself as becoming this child prodigy, the next great athlete. But of course, the actual experience of playing ball didn’t work out the same way. The initial feeling of first squeezing into baseball tights and a cheap cap that said something like “Mo’s Bagels, the best bagels in Nassau County, we’ll prove it!” didn’t make me feel I was that close to that picture in my mind. My anxiety increased when I saw these slim, go getter peers of mine, dominating the field. I didn’t feel prepared and the dreamlike image in my head quickly turned into increased uncertainty. On my parent’s front yard, I batted like Sammy Sosa and pitched liked Nolan Ryan. On the real baseball diamond, I was transformed into the “special player.” I had lost all of my powers.

Getting up to bat, I stood frozen at the plate gazing at the lone pitcher from afar imposing his skills and obvious confidence. He looked like a camouflaged soldier hiding behind a bush ready to fire. In addition, the silent pressure of the crowd, the catcher breathing on my skintight slacks and the police office/umpire with his large, overweight presence, I simply did not feel empowered to do well. The pitcher wound up and threw the ball with grace and ease. I felt the heavy breeze of the passing ball sail by my nose eventually thumping into the glove of the catcher. “Strike!” I stood shaking in my tights. I glanced at the umpire with a face of surprise. It was an attempt to argue with him just to show him I know what I’m doing. But I didn’t and he ignored my face. Many balls and strikes later, I realized I wasn’t what I thought I was going to be.

As the years went on I gave up on sports realizing it wasn’t “for me.” However, what was the real problem? Intense emotions. The emotional heaviness that was created from the newness of the situation took me away from the game. It wasn’t that I was a bad player; I just wasn’t in the game.

The struggle to do well at something or to enact that image in your mind into reality is a matter of differentiating the objective goal and the challenges that come along and the emotions that come along with it. Struggle does not mean sadness. You don’t have to feel bad to go through a struggle.

This brings us to the Benioni, the middle man mentioned in Tanya. A Beinoni, according to the Tanya, is someone who has reached a point where they never sin and do every mitzva to perfection, even though they aren’t always inclined to do so.  In Chapter 14, the Alter Rebbe emphasizes that the role of this middle man which is a status of perfection which is attainable for most of us. The point is not to change our nature, but to reach a state of perfection within the struggle. Meaning to say, although there are external and internal challenges, it does mean that the experience of perfecting yourself has been a failure, but in fact it means that you realize you are not Tzadik (completely righteous). You experience bad thoughts and have a natural tendency to react when something doesn’t go the way you want it. However, through learning about one’s choice in each and every situation, the inevitable feeling of sadness that can come through failure can actually become feeling of joy once one is aware that he is involved in this “game.”

Mark McGuire may have taken steroids because he didn’t think he could get there on his own. In a way he’s right and wrong. He may not have hit 70 home runs if he hadn’t taken steroids. However, he could have very well broken Roger Maris’ record. But the point is he needed help. In the same way, to separate, we need help in every step of life. It’s not a shame to ask the one on high for assistance in the game.


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