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A Gift Gone Wrong
Mom with a View

A Gift Gone Wrong

How do you explain this disturbing lack of gratitude?


I have a friend who is a very special person. When she sees a need, she acts with no fanfare and gets the job done. Countless people are the recipients of her kindness and thoughtfulness. She asks for no reward or payment and just operates out of true love for her fellow Jew. I am privileged to know her.

And while she doesn’t seek or even expect gratitude, she told me a disturbing story of its lack the other day. She heard abut a family where the father, the main breadwinner, had fallen ill. His wife was forced to take up the slack. In between trying to earn a living and meet the family’s most basic needs, their home had become a shambles. No one had the time or the energy to take care of even the most rudimentary cleaning, let alone the harder chores. Things were deteriorating by the moment.

This is the type of situation where my friend excels. She raised some money, hired some workers and, sponge and mop in hand, proceeded to scrub that house from top to bottom. It took a few days to cut through the grime. But that wasn’t enough for my zealous friend. She covered the newly cleaned walls with fresh coats of paint.

My friend, while a righteous woman, is human after all and she eagerly awaited the reaction of this family and their children when they saw the results of all this effort.

She was thus taken aback when the response was disgruntled criticism. “I don’t like the color of the walls in the kitchen,” complained the mother, and her children followed suit. “The blue on my bedroom wall is too light; the pink on mine is too dark.” On and on it went.

My friend was shocked and speechless. What had gone wrong here?

While there is no excuse for the bad character demonstrated by this family, I offer up a possible explanation. Perhaps they were embarrassed – that their home had been so filthy, that they had seemed so incompetent. Perhaps they were humiliated – that they didn’t have adequate financial resources, that someone else had seen their true state, that they were so needy.

Although my friend meant well and worked hard, perhaps she had inadvertently been a source of pain instead of pleasure.

I don’t know. Perhaps they were just superficial people with bad character. But that seems unlikely.

Doing kindness the right way is complicated – but I believe that robbing people of control over their physical circumstances winds up leaving them feeling more impoverished.

Good intentions are not enough. We must ferret out not just what someone needs but what they want.

True kindness requires thought and strategy, not just effort. It must be what the beneficiary wants to receive and not just what the donor wants to give.

And, above all, the dignity and self-respect of the recipient must be maintained. This lesson, learned through hours of cleaning, is certainly worth the price.

December 13, 2014

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Visitor Comments: 21

(20) Anonymous, December 21, 2014 12:13 PM

True hessed - Avrohom Avinu style

True chessed is when the recipient hardly feels what is being done for them. We learn this in the different way A. Avinu and Lot treated the Angels. Avraham stood around while they ate and made them feel like it was not a big deal. However, the Torah describes what went on behind the scenes: he tells Sarah to bake cakes and he runs and slaughters 3 cows so that he can serve them each a tongue with a mustard dressing! they were clueless as to what was going on behind the scenes. This type of chessed emulates Hashem's kindness which we receive in abundance yet it seems so natural that we hardly notice all the miracles involved! Just taking a breath is a miracle beyond human comprehension!
Lot on the other hand made a big fuss and invited them to sleep over and served them a lavish meal. Their response was: No thank you! We would rather sleep in the street!
Chessed, as Rebbetzin Braverman writes, must be done with much thought aout how it will be perceived from the recipients side. I am not sure what the real deal in this story was and it is not for us to judge either party, however, the lesson we can take is clear.

(19) Yehudit, December 20, 2014 7:22 PM

A delicate issue indeed

There are certainly two sides to every story, and you were right to highlight them both. There is an art both to giving and receiving graciously. It seems that in this story both sides overstepped their boundaries. I would have liked to know if the painting was done as a surprise or was known in advance. I can't imagine that any woman would assume to repaint the home of another (not to mention choose colours!) without prior consent, no matter how needy the recipient.

(18) Jaya, December 19, 2014 1:56 PM

gratitude !

from personal experience I know how hard it is to give up the desire for gratitude given . But that is a lesson the giver must learn , that is her reward if that strength comes .
Indeed the receivers embarassement is an important response that you rightly point out . The giver needs to be compassionate and certainly not over do .cleaning is one thing decorating quite another . Enjoyed this very much as it made me do some soul searching. Thanks .

(17) Anonymous, December 19, 2014 12:26 PM

This story reminded me of a similar incident

When I was in my early 20s, my mother's best friend came over to help me redecorate my bedroom. We worked in my room for several hours, but at one point I was tired and wanted her to go home. She was having none of that! She was on a roll and wanted to do what she wanted to do. Yes, I WAS appreciative of her help and I said as much to her. However, being grateful to someone does not and should not equal loss of assertiveness. We have the right to say no thank you. The person doing the mitzvah needs to hear and respect our polite refusal.

(16) HBB, December 19, 2014 7:58 AM

I have learned this lesson in my lifetime and it is so good to know, to move my ego out of the way, to leave more space for the light of Hashem and others. and I am still learning this and it is always a challenge. Thank you for sharing this story.

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