I've had a craving for a turkey and cheddar cheese sandwich for about 20 years now, if not more. There is a clear image imprinted in my mind of the first one I saw, that beautifully stacked sandwich in the deli section of our local grocery store.
A curious redhead no older than four, I was wandering through the endless aisles, soaking in the variety of unfamiliar cereals, sauces and things I had never even heard of before. The special excitement that was usually saved for the end of the supermarket adventure was the seafood section where I would watch the live lobsters rove around their huge tank, climbing the walls and clamping their claws. Growing up in an observant Jewish home, for me this section was like a thrilling trip to the aquarium, even though I knew that these creatures were meant to be eaten by other shoppers.
I stared at the masterpiece, fantasizing about what this combination must taste like.
One day I meandered over to the deli section, and there I saw it, the layers of white turkey, yellow cheddar cheese, lettuce and tomatoes, stacked between two pieces of thick white bread. Hands and nose pasted against the glass, I stared at the masterpiece, fantasizing about what this combination must taste like. I was a huge fan of turkey and cheddar cheese, but in a kosher home the two had never rendezvoused, not even for a little get-together on the counter.
I have no idea how long I stood at that delicatessen window before I felt my father join me at my side. He kneeled down beside me, his bearded cheek so close to mine. Staring in the direction of my fixed gaze, he whispered, "Looks really delicious, doesn't it?"
My eyes still locked, I nodded slowly. It really did look delicious.
"You know you are the luckiest little girl in this whole store," my father said to me softly.
What could he mean? I looked at him, requesting an explanation.
"You see, all the little girls in this whole supermarket can come and buy this sandwich and eat it if they want to. But you're special, you're different. God made you a Jewish girl that keeps kosher, which means you can never ever eat that sandwich. But God knows you want to eat it, and He is so proud of you for deciding not to let yourself."
I chewed on my fathers words for a bit, feeling his sky blue eyes caressing me. I asked him if God was not angry that I wanted something that was not kosher. Wasn't I supposed to be disgusted by non-kosher food?
My father smiled and took my hand. "There is something I want to show you."
He led me away from the frigid meat department back in to the warmth of the parallel aisles of shelved foods. We stopped in front of a giant, two-foot tall bag of orange colored popcorn. My father pointed to it and said, "I really, really want to taste that popcorn." Today it is quite easy to find products like this with kosher supervision symbols, but 20 years ago, especially in the small upstate New York town where we lived, snacks like this were obviously not kosher. My father told me that his craving was this popcorn. It was challenging for him to walk by it every time he came to do the shopping, but he felt strong knowing that a bag of popcorn could never mean more to him than his dedication to God's Will for him to eat only kosher foods.
"You see, on one hand it feels really hard because you think you would very much like to taste that sandwich, but on the other hand you can feel really happy and proud that you are choosing not to. The more you want to do something that you know you shouldn't, the happier God is that you didn't do it and the more reward he gives you."
The ride home was a quiet one, my father and I both driving through the roads of the mind and imagination. The new lesson I learned that day needed to find its place in my world.
This is a craving I've learned to love.
It's been 20 years and I still have an intense craving to taste white turkey roll and cheddar cheese together. This is not like my other cravings that come and go, or that annoy me if I can't satisfy them. This is a craving I've learned to love and revel in with glowing pride. I fantasize not of eating the sandwich, but of arriving in the World to Come and seeing the thousands of turkey and cheese sandwiches that had been created in my mind and never been eaten. Every single one of them will be counted and weighed and I know that I will receive abundant reward for each and every one.
We live in a world that tells us "If it feels good, do it." Listen to your stomach, your urges, your impulses. One day in the cold deli section of a grocery store, my father taught me that we don't have to be afraid to face our desires head on and to realize how much we gain by never acquiring them. We can use our impulses to grow by overcoming them.