Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Instant Gratification


7 Kislev 5772

December 2-3, 2011

“Jacob loved Rachel, so he said [to Laban her father], ‘I will work for you seven years, for Rachel your younger daughter.’” – Genesis 29:18

In this week’s Torah portion, we find Jacob fleeing from home after stealing his brother Esau’s blessing from their father Isaac. His journey takes him to the town where Laban, his uncle, lives. Laban had two daughters: (1) Leah the elder, and (2) Rachel the younger. After living with and working for Laban and his family for a month, Jacob is asked what his desired wages are. Jacob responds that he will work for 7 years in order to marry Rachel, as he was in love with her.

Holy. Moly. Seven years.

Is there any goal that you would be willing, right now, to commit 7 years to achieving?

If you found the person you wanted to be your life partner, would you labor for 7 years to have the ability to be with him or her?

Many of us are incredibly focused on achieving short term goals. Day to day and week to week, we all have tasks that need to be accomplished and that require our time, dedication and effort. So too do we seek instant gratification from our efforts. We want to see our goals achieved as quickly as possible, and we want to find a sense of fulfillment in our achievements (with such “fulfillment” often coming via the accolades showered upon us by others, rather than due to any ingrained sense of self worth).

But are we so concerned with short term rewards and instant gratification that we fail to take the time to look at the big picture? To set long term goals that can serve as a framework for our daily lives?

When I was working at the Conservative synagogue in Charleston, S.C. right after finishing college, one of my congregants was a retired Navy captain. At the beginning of his career, the Captain had set a long term goal: namely, to serve his country, in turn protecting his family, and to retire after 20 years. That goal framed his existence for two decades.

For 20 years, he was away at sea on a submarine for 9 months out of the year. For 20 years, he only got to see his wife and children 90 days per year. Out of dedication to his country and due to the need to support his family, he made what I’m sure many of us would consider a significant personal sacrifice. Now, as a retired captain on a military pension, he has the ability to spend every day with his wife, and has the flexibility to visit his children and grandchildren whenever he pleases.

The Captain’s path need not be yours. But due to having a long term goal in mind, he was able to create meaning in his day to day life beyond completing daily tasks and duties, as he knew he was on a path that he had set for himself.

While we often seek instant gratification in our lives, our ancestors were a bit more patient than we were. For a good chunk of our history the Jewish people were farmers, and a significant number of the Torah’s commandments focus on agricultural practices. For example, the Torah dictates that when you plant a new tree, you cannot eat of its fruit until the 5th year. Talk about needing to have patience!

For 7 years, Jacob patiently worked for his uncle in order to have the privilege of marrying Rachel. Then, his uncle tricked him (oh how the tables have turned!), and instead of Rachel, Jacob married Leah. In return for Jacob promising to work another 7 years, Laban then agrees to allow Jacob to marry Rachel. Thus, it wasn’t 7 years, but 14 years that Jacob worked for Laban. There must have been days where Jacob questioned his decision. And yet, striving to achieve his long term goal allowed him to frame his daily life in a meaningful way.

This Shabbat, take the time to reflect and set a long term goal. It might have to do with love and family. It might have to do with career. It might have to do with charitable endeavors. Whatever the goal is, use it to frame your daily activities, so that you can find meaning and real fulfillment, every day of your life.

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