This article originally appeared on Jewinthecity.com.
When I got to camp yesterday, my four year old son was filled with even more post-camp excitement than he’s filled with on a regular afternoon, which consists of him responding “GWEAT!” with a smile plastered to his face when I ask how his day was. What made this day extra, extra special? Why, the children had baked cookies! “Aminalcookies” my two year old son – also a camper – informed me.
“And I have three cookies, Mommy, and when I get home I’m going to share them with my sisters,” my older son explained. (His sisters always share their treats with him, so I was delighted to see that he was finally learning to be generous too.)
My son is an unusually picky eater and has only a few foods in this world that he adores – cookies being one of them. My father once noticed that when my son eats a cookie, he doesn’t just eat it. He experiences it. He examines its, feels it, smells it – the kid truly relishes it, which made his offer to share that much more impressive.
As we were driving home – we literally live two and a half blocks away door to door – I referenced my son’s generosity and noted how proud I was.
“Actually, Mommy,” my son interrupted, “I ate up all the cookies.”
“You ate up all the cookies?” I asked incredulously. (Apparently he had skipped cookie-savoring this time and went straight to devouring them Cookie-Monster-style!)
“But what about your sisters?” I pressed him.
“Well, the cookies looked so good, so I just ate them,” he replied
And then it occurred to me – this cookie struggle (heck, who am I kidding – it wasn’t a struggle!) or rather this cookie scenario sums up what much of life is about. I have a goal – an idealistic goal that I believe in, that I want to accomplish. But then I have a cookie right here right now and it looks so good, and maybe I’ll just skip that higher goal and eat the cookie instead. Two choices before me, but which one do I take?
I once heard an idea that according to Jewish thought, a human being is a hybrid of an “angel” and an “animal.” The “angel” is our soul and is connected to our intellect, conscience, and the loftier goals that we have for ourselves. The “animal” is our physicality, the part of us that wants pleasure and instant gratification and doesn’t have any higher goals beyond the here and now.
It’s not just that these two components of a person are battling with one another, it’s that one of them will often get the other to “work for it.” How so? If the animal is mostly in control, it means the person doesn’t only go after physical pleasures with the resources of the body, it actually uses the intellect to calculate and manipulate to acquire even more of the materialism it desires.
The Jewish goal, however, is to have the “angel” be in charge, and have the “animal’s” desires serve it. So, for instance, when the “animal” notices how great a cookie looks, the “angel” takes that information and says, “If that cookie would be so delicious for me, I bet my sister would enjoy it too.” The “angel” then proceeds to save the cookie for the sister (unlike my son!).
Which one will be in control – “animal” or “angel?” It’s a lifelong struggle that we all must face on a daily basis. But every time we can put off the instant pleasure for the higher goal, we feel pretty “GWEAT!”