Being a Giver
There are many types of giving. Sometimes people give because they're forced to. Other times, people give because they want to. Some lucky people discover the secret of giving -- that it feels great. The Jewish people in the Sinai Desert knew this secret. God told Moses to collect contributions from the people in order to build the Tabernacle -- that beautiful sanctuary where the people would gather to pray and feel a special closeness to God. Nobody was to be forced, only people who really wanted to would give. As it turned out, not only did everybody want to give, but they gave so much and so quickly that the treasuries filled up and Moses had to ask the people to stop giving! The Torah teaches us how to develop a giving heart and tap into the pleasure of being a giver.
In our story a girl encounters a special lady and discovers the pleasures of a giving heart.
It was a nice sunny afternoon and Judy decided to stop over her friend Melissa's house to invite her out for a walk.
Intoxicated by the beautiful day, Judy didn't notice that her friend's driveway was filled with cars. But as she rang the doorbell and noticed all of the activity buzzing around her -- lots of little kids, all dressed up in party clothes, running around, and groups of adults she didn't recognize chatting amiably -- she realized her friend was having some sort of family gathering.
Not wanting to intrude she turned to leave. But she had hardly taken a half-dozen steps when she heard a familiar voice call out, "Hey Judy, where are you going?" she looked over her shoulder and saw her friend Melissa wearing a beautiful lavender suit and holding a cup of soda in her hand. "C'mon back," she said. "You're just in time for the party."
Judy, feeling slightly embarrassed, smiled apologetically and said, "Sorry, Melissa, I didn't mean to barge in. I didn't realize your family was all here. I'll come back another time."
But her friend wouldn't hear of it. "Why should you leave?" she said. "It's my grandma's birthday party. She'd be happy if you stuck around and so would I."
"But," reasoned Judy, pointing to her jeans skirt and sweat shirt. "I'm not dressed for the occasion. And besides, I didn't even bring a birthday present."
"You look fine," assured Melissa. "And as far as bringing a present -- don't worry, no one else did either." Noticing her friend's confused look, Melissa went on, "My Grandma does her birthday a little ... um ... differently. Please come join us."
Feeling genuinely welcome, Judy edged her way inside amongst the group of friendly people.
"Excuse me a minute," said Melissa with a smile. "We're about to start the gift ceremony and I have to help out."
Judy blushed. "But you said nobody was bringing gifts!" she exclaimed.
Her friend just giggled. "Don't worry, soon enough you'll understand what I meant."
Judy joined the other guests who had now all settled themselves down onto the various chairs and sofas throughout the large living room. Melissa's grandma, a short woman with smiling blue eyes, stood at one end of the room surrounded by a huge pile of colorfully wrapped gifts. But instead of opening them up, as Judy expected she would, Grandma signaled to a young boy sitting on the edge of his seat and handed him one of the presents. "Happy Birthday!" she smiled.
The boy took the gift and hastily returned to his seat to unwrap it.
Judy sat wide-eyed with astonishment. The process repeated itself time and time again as the older lady handed out gift after gift to each of the guests. Soon Judy felt a tap on the shoulder. "It's your turn," Melissa smiled.
Judy looked up to see Melissa's grandma looking her way with an inviting smile. Slowly Judy approached her. "Happy Birthday to you!" she said warmly as she handed her a beautifully wrapped green package.
Opening it up, Judy found a lovely set of perfumed soaps and shampoos. They seemed as if they had been selected just for her. After the party was over, Judy stayed around to help her friend clean up.
"Melissa! Thanks so much for convincing me to stay. It was abeautiful party. But I just don't get it. Why did your grandma give everyone gifts and wish them a happy birthday if it was her birthday?"
Melissa smiled. "Because that's grandma," she said. "She just loves to give. Years ago she told everyone that no present we could possibly give her would bring her as much joy as she gets out of giving to so many people at one time. That's what Grandma calls a happy birthday. Everyone has a great time -- especially Grandma. Lately some of the kids in our family are starting to do the same thing on their birthdays. And you know what? It really feels good!"
Judy nodded with a new understanding. In fact, her birthday was almost around the corner. "Just maybe," she thought, "I might try a different kind of birthday party this year too."
Q. When Judy first saw the big pile of gifts behind Melissa's grandmother, who did she think they were for? Who were they really for?
A. She thought they were all gifts that people gave to Melissa's grandma. But they were really for grandma to give to everyone else.
Q. How did Grandma feel while she was giving away all of the presents?
A. She felt very happy because she got great joy out of giving, and this was a chance for her to give a lot.
Q. Why do you think it made Melissa's grandmother happier to have a party where she gave to everybody else rather than one where everybody gave to her?
A. While it may at first feel nice to be on the receiving end, the feeling is kind of hollow. Taking from others doesn't make us feel connected to them. When we give to others, we derive much more pleasure in becoming close to them. We also feel closer to God, the ultimate giver, by emulating His behavior. By giving, Melissa's grandmother felt connected to everyone she was giving to. That's what brought her so much joy.
Q. Can you think of a time you once gave of yourself or your possessions and felt good afterwards?
Q. When it was time to collect contributions to build the Tabernacle, God told Moses only to take only from people who gave with a willing heart. When it comes to giving to others, do you think it makes any difference whether we give happily or begrudgingly? Or is it all the same as long as we give?
A. While it's certainly good to give to others no matter what our attitude is, it can really affect the quality of the giving. When the giver tries to give graciously and with a willing heart, it makes the receiver feel more comfortable taking. But, more than this, it has a better effect on the giver and opens his heart to experience the joy and personal growth of giving that he would otherwise miss.
Ages 10 and Up
Q. Our Sages describe four basic personality types in relation to their possessions. What is your opinion of each of these attitudes?
- A person whose attitude is "What's mine is mine and what's yours is yours."
A. While this attitude may seem fair, it is not particularly growth oriented since it closes a person off from giving to others, which is a source of great spiritual pleasure and growth.
- One whose attitude is "What's mine is yours and what's yours is mine."
A. On the surface this also sounds fair. But in fact it is impractical since people often need their boundaries respected, which this doesn't allow for. Besides this it still involves a lot of taking (i.e. "what is yours is mine").
- A person whose attitude is "What's mine is yours and what's yours is yours."
A. This is an ideal level which combines a great respect for other's boundaries with a willingness to stretch our own in order to help others. A person who lives this way, like the grandmother in the story has truly discovered how much more satisfying it is to give than to take.
- One who says "What's yours is mine and what's mine is mine."
A. This is a self-centered attitude which will likely leave a person both unsatisfied and at odds with the people around him.
Q. Which of these attitudes best describes you?