As a daughter of a pulpit rabbi, with the coming of the Yamim Noraim, my antennae often picks up on a “sermonable” topic. This Yom Kippur, I believe I have found the sermon- one that would apply to the observant and non-observant alike. Many rabbis across the country will be speaking of the fiftieth anniversary of Sandy Koufax's famous refusal to play in the world series on Yom Kippur. Though not observant, Mr. Koufax was a source of pride for the Jewish community and gave Americans the ability to be “ more publicly assertive and to be less ashamed of their Jewishness. The decision of Koufax to do the Jewish thing so publicly and in such a quintessential American setting as the World Series pumped a new confidence into that generation of American Jews.” (The Jewish Week, “Where Have You Gone Sandy”).
Unlike in the 60's, the issue of Jewish pride is not one with which our children struggle. In Bergen County, our children walk the streets with kippot without a second thought. They go to college and do not hesitate to approach their professors and tell them they will will be off for Yom Kippur. The Sandy Koufax decision, I believe, can mean something different to our children.
On the pasuk in Vayikra 20:26 Rashi explains the words of Hashem to Bnai Yisrael, “And I have separated you from other people, that you should be mine.” There he states, “Rabbi Elazar ben Azarya says, 'From where do we know that a person should not say, 'I am disgusted with pig meat, or it is impossible for me to wear mixed kinds (kilayim)'? But rather he should say, 'I can, but what can I do, that my Father in Heave has decreed upon me that I may not.'” Rather than say, “Pig meat is disgusting,” one should say, “I want to eat pork. It looks so delicious. I even crave it, but I am not allowed to eat it.” A story is told of Rabbi Yaakov Kaminetsky that near his yeshiva was a non- kosher pizza store. When walking past the store one day with his students, he stopped, “took a deep whiff and said Ah! It smells so delicious!” I desire it, but I will overcome my desire in order to keep laws of the Torah. (In essence, mitzvot like kashrut help train us to overcome our desires and not succumb to them).
Did Sandy Koufax want to play? I imagine, yes. But, what could he do, his “Father in Heaven decreed upon him that he may not.”
The Sandy Koufax story reinforces the important lesson for all Jews that the Torah has limits and part of being Jewish is realizing that we are lucky to be able to abide by those limits. How do we relay that to our teens? That topic can fill many blogs unto itself.
For today, I want to focus on another lesson in the Sandy Koufax story. It is a lesson in “delayed gratification”- the ability to put off the receipt of a reward in order to gain a better reward later. In essence, this entails overcoming one's desire right now realizing that one will benefit in the future. In this generation of instant gratification- smartphones, googling etc, our children have a harder time saying to themselves, “I want this, but I need to overcome my desire in the present.” Self- control is integral to this ability.
The famous marshmallow experiment done in the 1960's and 70's by the Stanford University psychologist Walter Mischel demonstrated the importance of being able to delay gratification. Six hundred and fifty young children were offered a marshmallow and were told they could either eat it immediately or wait some time and get a second treat. Years later, in follow up studies, those who could delay gratification were more “competent” and successful in life. Dr. Grazyna Kochanska, followed 300 children for almost twenty years to see how delaying gratificaiton and self- control impacting their lives. She found, "Those who have good self-control are more compliant, more cooperative, have good harmonious relationships with their parents, good relationships with their peers, and they have good academic success."
This is the key to passing over the temptation of sin for the long-term reward on high. Why is that task so difficult for some and easier for others?
In an article, “Why Some Delay Gratification While Others Give In?” by Janice Wood, scientific research provides one strategy to better delay of gratification which is called "'prospection,' the process by which people can project themselves into the future, by mentally simulating future events. They can thereby imagine the future benefit. This 'mental time travel,' also known as 'episodic future thought', enables humans to make choices with high long-term benefits.” This research was done with dieters, and clearly the participants who could imagine themselves shedding the weight were better able to resist the food.
Unfortunately, as parents of teens we know that the prefrontal cortex, responsible for future thinking and considering consequences, is still developing. Teens therefore have a difficult time thinking about the future consequence of their behavior now. “I want it, but what can I do, my Father in Heaven decreed I cannot have it” is a very difficult task for them.
With the advent of technology, it has become even more difficult. Annie Murphy Paul, in "The New Marshmallow Test: Resisting Temptations of the Web," writes of professor Larry Rosen who “asked students to ‘study something important,’ and then he chronicled incidents of distraction. After about two minutes, students' ‘on-task behavior’ declined as they began responding to arriving texts or checking their Facebook feeds. After only 15 minutes, they had spent only about 65 percent of the period doing their schoolwork. ‘We were amazed at how frequently they multi-tasked, even though they knew someone was watching,’ Rosen says. ‘It really seems that they could not go for 15 minutes without engaging their devices,’ adding, ‘It was kind of scary, actually.’ When sending students texts during another study, while watching a video of a lecture, students who delayed responding until after the lecture was over scored significantly better.
. As parents we can
- Starting from a young age make our children wait, take turns and not give in to their kvetching for something. We help them tolerate frustration.
- We can encourage them to get involved in activities that don’t have immediate results but require practice
- We need to model patience and ability to not give in to one’s desires.
- We can ask our children to stop and think about the future.
- We can reward children for self- control.
As we approach Yom Kippur and contemplate how to make this year one of growth, let us reconsider the words of Rabbi Elazar ben Azarya,”I can, but what can I do, that my Father in Heaven has decreed upon me that I may not.” Notice that he called G-d “Father in Heaven.” That is the job of the parent who truly loves his/her child- to set limits, to say that you can’t have everything you want whenever you want it, and you need to learn self- control. It is with love that Hashem has given us the Torah to help us attain the essential skill for life of delaying gratification. So, too, with love may we help our own children achieve the same so that they may say, “I can, but what can I do, that my Father in Heaven and my parents on earth, have decreed upon me that I may not”- and may they realize that it is for their own good.