An infant cries to signal to her environment that she needs something. Although her cry instinctively creates a sense of urgency within those that hear it, it is simply the infant’s method of expression of need. If she does not have her need fulfilled, she uses the same cry – sometimes louder or stronger – to signal both the need and the disappointment in its not being fulfilled. Within the infant, her primal method of communication is used both to express her need and her desire to have it fulfilled immediately. They then become one and the same – a need and its immediate fulfillment.
Infants and babies, and even many toddlers, see a need and the immediate fulfillment of the need as identical. They have not yet assimilated the concept of waiting – that one can have a need, and it takes time to fulfill it. If a young child, capable of rudimentary language, expresses a need to a caregiver and the caregiver replies, “wait,” or “soon,” or “I am doing it now,” the child often responds by repeating the request. The concept of waiting for need fulfillment does not yet exist.
As a child matures, she often learns the social and societal requirement to wait. Yet, it might still be hard for her to internalize that waiting is necessary and beneficial for the individual, absent any obligation that is externally induced. What sometimes can make waiting so hard is that when we deeply desire something, as a crying baby does, we see ourselves as only existing once that desire is fulfilled. Allowing ourselves to wait means that we are admitting to ourselves that we are people – and we exist independently of the existence of that wish’s fulfillment. Waiting demands being in touch with the profound fact that we exist ourselves, even without the ready availability of the thing, person, or condition that we desire.
Sometimes the best gift a person can give herself is to allow a thought or idea to grow in her mind, a situation to unfold, or an opportunity to present itself. It is often said that “good things come to those who wait.” In addition, and perhaps more importantly, “those who wait become good things.”
In a highly acclaimed study in Stanford, researcher Walter Mischel presented preschoolers with a marshmallow and told them that if they waited a few minutes and didn’t eat it, they would get another marshmallow. Those that waited were followed longitudinally through their lives and found to have higher paying jobs and more successful lives. Delaying gratification might not only be about the ability to see the forest of long term potential instead of the trees of the short term. It also might represent an intrinsic knowledge that one fully exists and is able to wait if it enhances that existence.
It is hard to delay gratification. Perhaps so hard that it is an original flaw of mankind. Rosh Hashanah was the day that Adam and Eve were created, as well as the day that they sinned and partook of the Tree of Knowledge. The Midrash (see Bereishis Rabba, 21; Ramban Milchamos Chullin, Chapter 1; Ohr Hachaim, Bereishis Chapter 49) states that had Adam waited until Shabbos, he would have been allowed to eat from the Tree. It is evident that the original sin was not as much about eating a forbidden fruit, but eating it without waiting.
Interestingly, there is a custom some women have that when they are pregnant they wait until the last day of the holiday of Sukkos, when the four species are used, and they bite off a part of one of those species, the Esrog – Citron (see Mateh Ephraim, Eleph Hamagen 660, 6) and recite a prayer for easy labor. The prayer is apropos according to the opinion the forbidden fruit was the Esrog, since the Torah describes that Eve’s partaking of it is what caused that punishment of a difficult labor for womankind. Accordingly, a pregnant woman declares that if she was around at the time of Adam and Eve, she would not have eaten the fruit, just as she has not eaten the Esrog the entire Sukkos, and should be spared a difficult labor. Rabbi Hershel Schachter explained that custom based on the same Midrashic tradition that the sin of Adam and Eve was primarily that they did not wait for the appropriate time to eat the fruit. The pregnant woman is remarking that she have waited to eat the Esrog, rectifying the character flaw of her matriarch, Eve.
The ability, necessity, and advantage of waiting, as well as holding the frustration that it brings, takes maturity. Being able to wait is sometimes one of the greatest signs of development. It is often difficult to wait, but cultivating that skill can be beneficial. What are we waiting for?