Should We Hate Receiving Gifts?

I often hear people quoting the verse “One who hates gifts shall live” (Mishlei (Proverbs) 15:27). This implies our attitude should be that we do not want to receive from others but should make do with what we have. Does this mean that Judaism is against giving gifts? But to me giving a present is a very positive thing. It increases the connection between people. The receiver feels loved and appreciated, and the giver gets the good feeling of knowing he made the receiver feel good. Why does the Torah seem to be against this?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

Thank you for raising the good issue. There is a basic distinction between the intent of the verse and the situation you have in mind. “One who hates gifts shall live” is not referring to a person who receives gifts given as a courtesy or a sign of friendship, but one who takes handouts as a way of life. If a person does not want to be responsible for himself but wants others to support him, it is, as the verse implies, a lack of life. Such a person has no vitality. He will feel like a freeloader and will lose respect for himself.

We should “hate” the notion of receiving for nothing. We should rather only want that which we put effort into and earned. Receiving something for free, even if in the end we have more, does not make us feel bigger or more alive. It makes us feel dependent on others and less vital ourselves. This is because “life” is not simply being physically alive. It is a sense that our lives are meaningful and we are making a difference. A person who puts in effort and produces senses his energy and vitality. He feels alive. Someone who just wants to take and never give feels dead. And no amount of worldly possessions will change that empty inner feeling.

(Needless to say, we are not talking about people who are being supported by others but who are producing themselves, even if they are not directly earning money. If a person receives a stipend in order that he can devote himself fully to Torah study, he is making a tremendous difference to himself and the entire world. It is likewise common today for young people, even after marriage, to be supported for years while they complete their higher education.)

In a different vein, even if one does receive gifts from others for his support, if he shows proper appreciation, he is not simply becoming a taker who is living off of others. He rather owns up to the fact that he owes in return – and he expresses it. This is giving back to the giver – even if only recognition. And rather than just taking others’ possessions and swallowing them up, the receiver becomes open to the fact that he is now beholden to others. This increases his love and appreciation for the people who have helped him, and very often in the proper degree this is very healthy for a person. (Heard in the name of R. Aharon Kotler zt”l.)

None of the above issues is relevant to gifts given or received out of friendship. So long as a person does not take presents out of dependency and he shows proper appreciation, giving and receiving presents is a fine way to increase love and admiration among people.

The Talmud (Brachot 10b) states that a person may accept gifts as Elisha did (based on II Kings 4, that he accepted the hospitality of the Shunamite woman), or not accept gifts as Samuel the Prophet (implied by I Samuel 7:17, that he constantly returned home from his travels). The implication is that both approaches are valid. It’s fine to accept help from others if you will properly appreciate what they do for you. And it’s also fine (and not a form of arrogance or aloofness) if you want to try to be more independent yourself, taking as little as possible from others. (The Talmud (Hullin 44b) likewise cites episodes of great scholars who went to great lengths not to receive any sort of gift.)

As above, the implication of the Talmud is that both approaches are legitimate and have their place. A person must judge for himself what is best for him at any given time. Sometimes it’s best for us specifically to receive gifts – to help increase our feelings of appreciation and interdependence on others. And sometimes we should refrain from receiving too much help so that we not feel too dependent on others. As with almost all the big issues of life, there is no simple rule. It is a matter of using our own proper, sound judgment.

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