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Thursday, 30 January 2014

Getting our Priorities Straight

Yoma 83

“Life’s short.  Eat dessert first.”  Why don’t we eat dessert at the beginning of the meal?

In the midst of the battle with the Philistines, King Shaul decreed a public fast in an attempt to beseech Divine assistance.  His son, Yonatan, who had not heard about the decree, satiated himself with some honey he found.   Upon hearing of the decree, he was surprised and exclaimed, “See how my eyes lit up for I tasted a little of this honey.”   Jonathan felt that had the army not been hungry whilst on the battlefield, they would have achieved greater success.

From this biblical narrative, the Talmud derives that eating sweet foods lights up one’s eyes.  Therefore, when one is ill and one’s sight has dimmed, one should enjoy sweet foods to alleviate the pain.

Notes Abaye: Sweet foods are actually only beneficial after eating the main meal.  If you eat sweets prior to the meal, it just makes you hungrier.   What does Abaye mean?  Clearly his teaching is our source for having dessert at the end of the meal, but why does he suggest that eating dessert first would make one hungrier? 

Let’s start with kids who want the sweets first.  As parents, we know that if they eat the sweets, they won’t eat the main course.  In fact, they will just want more and more dessert!  As adults, we know that we should fill ourselves with the nutritional main course and then partake of dessert as a treat at the end.

But the same thing applies throughout life.  Some people believe that the purpose of their work is to earn enough time and money to enjoy a good vacation.  Or to earn enough money to have a deluxe retirement.   In other words, the only reason I’m working is for the vacation or retirement life.  If I could have the vacation today, I wouldn’t bother working.

Says Abaye: You’ve confused your priorities.  The vacation is not the goal.  Nor is the retirement.  “Six days shall you work.”   We were placed on this earth to be productive.  Vacations are okay, but just as dessert, not as the priority.   Making vacations the priority sends a bad message to our children, who grow up with a sense of entitlement.  Instead, we need to impress upon them the importance of hard work and earning the ability to contribute to making this world a better place.


Dessert belongs at the end of the meal, otherwise it just makes us hungrier for more dessert.