Klal Yisroel find themselves in dire straits in this week’s parsha. Trapped between the Egyptian army in hot pursuit and the deep blue sea, they cry out to Hashem. The Medrash tells us that only on seeing רכוש של מצרים בידם, the wealth of the Egyptians in the hands of the Jewish people, did the sea split.
This is very strange. The waters did not give way for the men, women and children of Klal Yisroel, but only for the Egyptian plunder! What does this mean?
Rabbi Pinchos Roberts explains that after decades of slavery and persecution they were suddenly free and very wealthy. But their newfound wealth did not go to their heads, it was firmly in check – it was בידם, in their hands and in their control.
The Yam Suf witnessed this remarkable self-discipline of the Jewish people and only then split its waters.
Teaching children self-discipline is critical. Especially so in a world which offers an ever-increasing number of seemingly tantalising allures.
A professor of psychology in Stanford university once carried out the following fascinating experiment. One by one, he put a group of four-year children in a room and placed a single marshmallow in front of each child. They could eat it now or, if they waited fifteen minutes before eating it, they would receive two. All of the children thought about it, some gave in straight away, some tried to wait, one after fourteen and a half minutes. Poor kid couldn’t take it anymore!
Two out of three children ate the marshmallow. But one third didn’t. They paced the room, distracted themselves in all types of ways, some even smelled the marshmallow, but they didn’t succumb. At the tender age of four, one third of the children in the experiment understood the most important principle for success – the ability to delay gratification. Self-discipline.
But here comes the fascinating part. Fifteen years later, they did a follow up study. They surveyed these children, now aged nineteen and found that every single one of the children who did not eat the marshmallow and displayed self-discipline were happy. They had achieved good grades in school, got into the university of their choice, had good relationships with their parents and their teachers and were generally deemed successful.
A great percentage of the two thirds who ate the marshmallow were not. They did not have good grades, did not have good relationships and had got into some sort of trouble.
So this is what it boils down to. Demonstrating self-discipline. Delaying gratification for a longer term good.
It is an important principle to understand. Some children are more impatient and impulsive than others, but all need to be taught the dangers of these traits and the benefits of self-control.
After decades of slavery and persecution, Klal Yisroel managed to ensure that their newfound wealth did not go to their heads. It was בידם, in their hands and in their control. That, says the Medrash, is what so impressed the Yam Suf, that it split its waters.
An important lesson for us and for our children.
Rabbi J Golker