> Weekly Torah Portion > Parents & Kids > Family Parsha

Acting on Impulse

Toldot (Genesis 25:19-28:9 )

by Nesanel Yoel Safran

Many times in life we find ourselves having to make a choice - whether we are willing to commit ourselves to the kinds of things and behavior that we know deep down have real, lasting value in the long run, or are we ready to give them up if something exciting comes along at the spur of the moment?

This was the issue that faced Jacob and Esau in this week's Torah portion. When Esau saw Jacob coming by with some delicious looking food to bring their father, he was so overtaken by it that he was willing to trade in his 'birthright' - which would have given him and his descendants special spiritual privileges forever - to get some. Later on he regretted his impulsive decision, but by then it was too late.

God wants us to be 'long run' people. Good fun shouldn't come at the expense of things that really count.


In our story, a girl has to decide whether to play for the long run or the short run.


It had been great night out. The rain that had been falling non-stop for nearly a week had finally let up. Debby and her friends were in a great mood and the last stop at 'Super Scoops' ice-cream parlor was just the thing to make the night complete.

Maybe it was the loud music, or the bright lights, but the place just kind of made you feel like you had left earth and entered 'planet ice cream.' The waitress came and all the kids ordered.

"Whatchya gonna have Deb?" asked Liz. "I personally recommend the Double Fudge Sundae. It's chocolate heaven!"

Debby looked at her rail-thin friend, and laughed. "Maybe it's heaven for you, but for me it might be just the opposite. It's not exactly on my diet, you know!" Debby, unlike her friend, was a bit chubby, and she felt proud that she had been able to faithfully follow the diet her nutritionist had given her over the last two months. Staying on it made her look great, and feel great about herself too.

But Debby still loved to eat. She had to admit to herself that the ice cream sure looked scrumptious. Besides, what harm could one sundae really do? She felt her resolve melting faster than an ice cream in a microwave.

"Why not have a good time?" she thought. "I'll take the same, please!" she told the waitress on impulse, and handed in her menu.

"Way to go!" Liz said with a smile. "I hate to eat alone."

When the orders arrived, the kids began to dig in. As everyone else happily slurped down their sundaes and milkshakes, Debby seemed to be having second thoughts. Her friend noticed her squirming uncomfortably in her seat, and her ice cream untouched.

"What's the matter, Deb? They forgot to give you a spoon?" teased Liz, already down to her second scoop.

Debby laughed and decided to dig in. "Nope! Got it right here," she said, holding up the long silvery spoon. "And you better watch out, 'cause I'm gonna catch up with you in about a half a minute."

Debby dug the spoon deep into the chocolaty mountain and brought it to her mouth. She just knew it was going to be as delicious as it looked. But just before the ice cream was about to enter her mouth, something inside made her pull back. "What am I doing?" she thought to herself. "I've been working so hard for the last two months to stay on my diet. I'm healthier. I'm happier. Do I really want go and blow all that in one fell 'scoop'? Once I start, it's going to be really hard to stop. It's not worth it!"

Debby pushed the plate away and felt an immediate sense of relief. Noticing Liz's surprised glance, Debby smiled and said, "Well, Liz, it looks like you may have won the ice cream race, but at least I won the 'Battle of the Bulge!'"


Ages 3-5

Q. How did Debby feel when she first decided to order the ice cream?
A. She felt an urge to eat it even though it wasn't on her diet and it wouldn't be good for her.

Q. How did she feel after she decided not to eat it after all?
A. She felt great that she was able to control her impulse, and act in a way she knew would really be better for her in the end.

Ages 6-9

Q. Why would a person ever hold himself back from doing something that he feels like?
A. Often by holding back from doing one thing, we are able to gain something else that we want even more. In the story, Debby held back from the short-term pleasure of the ice cream so she could maintain her commitment to her diet, which in the long-term was more valuable to her. Another example would be someone who resists an urge to smoke because he would prefer having healthy lungs and the best chance of a long life. This is what it mean to live like a soul.

Q. Does that mean that a person can never just 'go for it' and have some spur-of-the-moment fun?
A. There is definitely a time and a place for spontaneous fun. But the main thing is that a person should keep his eyes open and calculate what is actually at stake, and whether or not it's really worth it. It's fine to have some fun, but a person has to always know how far he is willing to go.

Q. Can you think of struggle you went through where you felt this tension between short-term and long-term gain?

Ages 10 and Up

Q. How is long-term thinking the sign of a spiritually developed person? A. We all have impulses, whether it is a desire for an ice cream cone or anything else. It's a normal part of being human. However, besides these short-term, generally physical impulses, each of us has a deeper, spiritual essence with its own set of goals and desires. Some of these might include developing our minds, improving our character traits, getting along better with others, etc. Most often these spiritual goals take time before they yield their results and bring us pleasure. The more spiritually tuned in we are, the more real these things are to us, and the more likely we will be willing to invest ourselves in them even at the expense of some of our short-term desires.

Q. What do you thing our sages mean when they say that a wise man is able to see what will develop out of his choices?
A. It refers to an ability to look beyond the immediate results of a given decision, and project several steps into the future, to realize what that decision is likely to bring about. In our story, it would mean being able to look past the taste of the ice cream and see a broken diet, likely future binges, and the physical and emotional discomfort of being overweight.

Q. Do animals struggle with these kinds of choices?

Q. Can you think of struggle you went through where you felt this tension between short-term and long-term gain?



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