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The Heavenly Gift Of Restraint

With Pesach upon us, Jews must refrain from indulging in some of their favorite foods, drinks and even cosmetics for over a week. No matter how much a person craves a bagel, a shot of
whisky, or a dab of a favorite perfume, he/she scrupulously avoids these items.

In the weeks leading up to Pesach, even the most habitual procrastinators get off their couches and force themselves to do groan-inducing activities such as scrubbing the oven, the fridge, and the floors. There is no “I’ll do it later” option. Men and women know they have to roll up their sleeves and get the house, the car, the office, and the store chometz-free and ready for Pesach.

For Torah fearing Jewish families, there is no question about doing what is necessary to properly observe the laws of Pesach, or for that matter, those of kashrut and Shabbat and
Yom Tov during the year. This is part of their life pattern, wherein they consistently fulfill the requirements of daily prayer, family purity, giving charity, kashrut, etc. Doing so requires self-discipline, restraint, and controlling impulses. These traits, that are invaluable in successfully handling life, are tragically lacking in today’s hedonistic society.

There has been much press lately about the epidemic of obesity in American children. The fact that so many youngsters are dangerously overweight is not really a surprise. As they grow up in this age of self-gratification, permissiveness and green lights for all kinds of immoral behaviors, why shouldn’t children eat what they want, when they want, and how much
they want? In a “do what feels good” society, kids are doing just that – snacking themselves to oblivion. There are no rules to teach them self-control or patience.

Over the years, non-observant friends and acquaintances have mocked me about keeping kashrut and Shabbat and being “religious,” expressing their opinion that, for example, while “in
the old days” there might have been a reason for not eating pig or shellfish due to sanitary problems, in our modern times, with food inspectors and sterilization and homogenization
techniques – the idea of “forbidden” foods is obsolete.

They are totally missing the point! Many of our mitzvot don’t have an obvious explanation. We can try to understand the rationale for mitzvot, but we can never plumb their true multi-faceted depths.

The value of keeping the rules and regulations of the Torah becomes apparent to anyone raising children - even without knowing their “whys.” To me, it’s all about the crucial
development of self-discipline, self control, and restraint. For that reason alone, every mitzvah is a blessing and a gift from Hashem.

A child who has to wait a few hours before having an ice cream because he had a meat lunch learns early in life to control his urges. He learns to be patient. He realizes that he can’t get what he wants – when he wants it. A die-hard baseball fan who refrains from watching a ball game on Shabbat - because it is Shabbat – is learning that he has to make some sacrifices, and that the world does not revolve around his desires. These are invaluable lessons that will help
children deal with life as adults.

Instant gratification - the philosophy of the masses – is what is undermining physical health and family life in the western world. The individual raised in a secular society whose mantra is “I want this…and I want it now,” is in serious trouble, because the people he comes in contact with also worship the “me comes first” motto and may even lie, cheat, and steal in their quest for pleasing themselves.

Child psychologists know that children – (and I believe adults as well), crave boundaries. Kids may protest loudly when their parents set limits to what they can or cannot do, but deep down, they desperately need guidelines and boundaries. Parents who make it clear to their children what they are allowed or not allowed are giving the message that they love their kids and are watching over them. The world is fascinating – but scary, and all human beings need and yearn for limits – and secretly appreciate having them. Without limits, there is anarchy, chaos and confusion. Getting structure in the form of “no, you can’t do this or go there” from those who are more experienced and wiser is actually reassuring and appreciated.

So, too, our Heavenly Father has, out of love, given us rules to guide us through our life’s journey so that we do not get overwhelmed, lost, or stumble onto dangerous paths. The
resulting attainment of self-restraint, of self- control, of patience, is the ultimate Divine bracha and reward.

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