Long Term Satisfaction
In our Torah portion we learn how Esau was willing to sell his birthright, an everlasting gift, for a pot of beans! Esau was only able to value what was in front of his eyes. But the Torah teaches us that the things that are truly valuable don't always come right away. If we can give up the need for immediate gratification often we get so much more in return.
In our story, a boy learns the lesson of how to wait for what really matters.
Asher burst into the Epstein house like a small tornado. He was carrying a football and a good deal of mud from the afternoon's football game as well. Mrs. Epstein took one look at her son and couldn't decide whether to scold him or just giggle.
"Hi Mom. I'm starving. What's for dinner?" he asked.
Asher's mom smiled and said, "You're going to be happy. We're having your favorite tonight, something you've been asking for a long time -- take-out Chinese."
"Great!" Asher put down his football and sat down at the table. "Can I have some now?" he asked.
"Dad and the kids went to pick it up. I'd say they should be back in about a half hour. Meanwhile why don't you jump in the shower and change your clothes. I think you're wearing about half the mud of Spaulding Park on you."
"A half hour!" Asher cried. "I can't wait a half an hour. I'll collapse by then! Can't I eat something now?"
His mom rolled her eyes. "I didn't realize it was such an emergency," she joked. If you're really that hungry you can go into the pantry and take some cereal. But I really recommend that you wait. I know that Chinese food is a big treat for you and it would be a shame to fill up on that stuff."
Asher considered his mother's words, but soon dismissed the thought. "I've gotta eat now." Food was all he could think of as he stalked over to the pantry and grabbed a bowl, a spoon and a full box of "Breakfast Flakes."
A little while later the family car pulled into the driveway. In came Mr. Epstein and Motti and Dina, Asher's brother and sister. The kids each held a heavy bag of the finest that the "Shanghai Shalom" restaurant had to offer.
"Okay," said Motti, in a serious tone. "We've got moo goo gai pan, we've got moo shu beef, and we've got a double order of sweet and sour chicken wings, Asher's favorite."
The brother and sister looked at each other. "Hey where is Asher?" asked Dina. "He can usually smell this stuff a mile away," she added. "I think he's up in his room," answered Mrs. Epstein, as she started to set the table.
"Please go up and invite him to join us." Dina skipped across the living room and scampered upstairs. She knocked on Asher's door. "Hey Asher, are you in there? Come on down while the Chinese food is still hot!"
Asher opened the door. On the desk behind him sat a bowl and an almost empty box of cereal. He had a glazed look on his face. "Hey we're waiting for you," chirped his sister. "Dinner's ready. Dad even got you those special chicken wings you love," she added.
"He did?" Asher's eyes popped open momentarily with an excited look, only to give way immediately to a wince. "Please ask everyone to start without me," he said. "I'm not in the mood."
Dina jumped back in the mock surprise. "You're not in the mood for Chinese food? Should we take your temperature first, or just call the doctor right away?"
"Ha, ha, very funny," said Asher. "I don't need a doctor. If anything I need to have my head examined to figure out why I just ate half a box of 'cardboard' cereal instead of waiting for you guys to come home with something I really like."
Q. How did Asher feel when he found out that he would have to wait for the Chinese food to come?
A. He felt like he couldn't wait and had to eat something right away even if it was something he didn't like so much.
Q. After the food came, did Asher feel like eating Chinese food? Why not?
A. No. He wished he had waited, since he would have enjoyed the Chinese food much more than the cereal he ate.
Q. If Asher had it to do all over again, do you think he would have chosen to eat cold cereal for dinner, or would he have preferred to have waited and eaten hot Chinese take-out?
A. He would want the Chinese food.
Q. If so, when dinner-time came why do you think he chose to do the opposite?
A. At that point Asher basically let his mind take a "back-seat' to his desire for immediate gratification. He let all the good reasons for waiting for his favorite food be drowned out by one little voice that said "I want it now!" After he ate the cereal his mind calmed down, and he realized that he had chosen to do something he really didn't want to do.
Q. How could Asher, or someone else in a similar situation, avoid falling into the same trap the next time?
A. When a person feels that same drive to "do it now, no matter what the consequences" he can try to remember the last time he listened to that little voice and regretted it later. As a person matures he learns how to control his drives and instead to use his mind to gear his decisions. He can tell himself: "Hey, wait a minute. Is this really what I want to do? Will I be happy that I made this decision later on?" Thinking this way can help a person get to where he really wants to go.
Ages 10 and Up
Q. Certain things provide immediate gratification whereas others provide long-term gratification. Which is more valuable and why?
A. Long-term gratification, because the truly good things are worth waiting for and usually require hard work and patience to obtain.
Q. How can a person learn to recognize which is which?
A. One pretty reliable indicator is that things providing immediate gratification may make us feel good at the beginning when we first partake of them, but then afterwards the good feeling leaves and we may even regret our action. In contrast, long-term gratification might not be as pleasurable right away, but afterwards we will feel very good about what we have done.
Q. Our sages tell the story of a man who while traveling, encounters a fork in the road with a sign pointing to the "Long way that's shorter," and the other to the "Short way that's longer." How can we understand these two ways? What do they teach us?
A. Often we are tempted to take "shortcuts" in life. They seem like the "easy way out." We choose to escape the problems rather than face them. Or, to save time and energy, do things only "half-way," rather than the "right way." But his is the "short way that's longer" as in the end we don't really accomplish what we need to, and have to start all over again. The "long way that's shorter" is to do things right the first time. We face our problems and work them through. It may seem like more effort but in truth it's a much more productive approach.