The drive-up cash machine at the Chase Bank on Main Street (you know, the one that requires you to be 6’5 to reach the button from your car?) is a funny place to find inspiration, but there it was: a moment of clarity and a lesson about immediate gratification when all I wanted to do was make a simple withdrawal. I stuck in my card, punched in my code, slapped the “fast cash” option, and waited there with half my body dangling out the window, reaching for the cash drawer. I was starting to get annoyed (and uncomfortable) waiting and waiting for my money. Where was my money? I then noticed a friendly toggle that reminded me to retrieve my debit card. Only after I took my card would the machine release my money, which it did, and I was on my way to have some much-deserved falafel (with a certain unapologetic Miami Dolphins fan who will remain nameless).
This story reveals many things about me:
- I’m short.
- I will jump through hoops – or at least a car window – to get money.
- I don’t hold sports affiliations against my friends (even if they secretly own a Bob and a Brian Griese jersey).
- I have almost driven off without my debit card many times.
- I like falafel.
It also reveals a kind of microcosm of the human condition. What’s more important: the money, or the means to getting it? My behavior along with that machine’s design implies in a small way that people will tend to focus on short-term gains like cash over long-term tools for retrieving more money like the debit card. Lunging for the cash, rather than pulling out my card, showed that at the moment my priorities were skewed. (I later thought of something called the “Marshmallow Test,” conducted by Stanford psychologist Walter Mischel in 1990 and replicated recently by Tyler Watts, Greg Duncan, and Haonan Quan. Basically, it correlated the ability to delay gratification with success and achievement. You should look into it, and it fits somewhere here in this article, but whatever… I don’t have the patience to fit it in. Google it.)
We answer texts in the middle of dinner with the family, we find out the box score on Shabbos, we talk during davening, we look at things that our eyes were not meant to see, and we lose sight of the broader context and go for what feels better at the time but hurts us in the long-run. Life isn’t just about being in the moment; it’s also about knowing what to do when the moment arrives. We have to live life with both eyes wide open.
Parshas R’ei opens our eyes by telling us that we Jews have the elevated ability to discern between right and wrong. We can choose to live life or let life live us. We can connect to the good in the world – to Hashem, Torah, mitzvos, love – or we can choose a life that’s no life at all, an unexamined life, a selfish life, a distracted life. Each day, we choose to live or die.
It’s funny how, when kids or adults get upset over something insignificant, we sometimes say that they are acting like a baby. But babies cry only when they are in need of something
When my son was a baby, he would often cry and cry and then…cry. The cries would come in the middle of an important phone call, during unimportant phone calls, late at night, early in the morning, during Sunday Night Football, during Monday Night Football (Jets-Dolphins Monday Night Miracle). Not surprising, that’s one of the things babies do.
To be honest, I often found myself taking care of my son: feeding him, cleaning him, holding him, just to solve a problem. My problem. I just wanted him to stop crying. Again, it was like taking the cash but forgetting the card – my job is to love him and to take care of him, not to give him what he needed so I could be free.
Why was he crying anyway? It occurred to me that he was in need; he just wanted to tell me that he wanted to be fed, he was dirty, he wanted to be held, he wasn’t feeling well. These are basic needs. All he was asking for were his basic needs, but I was too preoccupied with myself.
The next time my son cried, I decided not to just shut him up but to actually help him. Everything changed. I wasn’t just solving the problem of my life being interrupted; I was giving love. I was doing one of the greatest things a person could do in this world. My son, only months old, had taught me an amazing lesson in priorities.
It’s funny how, when kids or adults get upset over something insignificant, we sometimes say that they are acting like a baby. But babies cry only when they are in need of something. We’d be acting more like babies if we took better care of ourselves and knew when to ask for help.
I am thankful that babies cry. Maybe we should all start acting more like babies. It seems that the older we get, the more we risk drifting away from the important things in life, from remembering that we have a special connection to Hashem. Hopefully we’ll try to see things more differently.
Rabbi Dovid Orlofsky once observed that, while everyone dies, unfortunately some people die decades before they get lowered into the ground. I don’t want to be that person. I don’t want to spend my life burrowing through haystacks in search of a needle only to forget that I’m lost in a haystack and then wonder just what I’m supposed to do with that needle. The Torah is specifically calling on us to see (R’ei) – it wants us to have clarity and to choose life.
Simcha Loiterman is a resident of Kew Gardens Hills. He is available for speaking engagements and presentations or a cup of coffee and a good talk. He would love to hear from you at firstname.lastname@example.org. He feels very strongly that you can learn from everyone because we all have stories to tell, lessons to teach, and can kindle a spark of goodness inside. He is currently pursuing a doctorate in “Life.” Visit his blog at thisisloit.wordpress.com to learn more of his ideas and opinions about our beautiful world.