Commentary by Dr. Ursula A. Falk

It is Better to Give


It is better to give than to receive is a lesson that I learned in my childhood. I accompanied my mother to a “shive” visit to a family who had just lost their father.  They were very poor people, yet the wife of the deceased offered me cookies that my mother had brought for the bereaved.  Hastily I accepted.  My parent reprimanded me for being greedy for taking away food intended for the bereaved family who were unable to prepare food during their “shivah” (mourning period).  I learned to recognize my selfishness, my greed.  I was taught to refuse three times before taking from a donor, especially from an impoverished giver.

Since then there were many more opportunities to practice self control and generosity.  There is the story of a rich man who lived in a mansion.  He was extremely frugal and did not so much as offer one “Groschen” to the poor. One very cold winter day he saw a dog shivering outside on the steps of his mansion.  The “Osher” (rich man) ordered his butler to place a nickel on the back of the dog so that a passerby could take the pittance to buy the dog a bone or a morsel of meat to assuage the animal’s hunger pangs.  The miser felt very good about himself for  the morsel he had left for the poor half frozen animal. It was long after this episode that the rich man died.  His soul flew up to the gates of Gan Edem (heaven).  The gates opened and an angel, the keeper of the door, came out and asked the Osher to tell him about the good deeds he had performed while being Auf jener Welt (nether world/earth).  The “Nadvens” (givers/generous persons) were received with joy to enjoy eternity with Hashem (G’d). After very little thought, the rich man told the angel of the exceptionally good deed, namely that he had extended himself by leaving five cents on the back of a dog.  After a brief discussion the angel consulted with “Hashem.” The answer was swift and to the point: :”Give that Osher back his nickel and tell him to go to hell.”

Another lesson was learned when I first arrived penniless in America as a refugee, a ten year old child, a survivor from Hitler’s Holocaust, an escapee from the sword and the gas ovens.  My two young siblings and I were invited by a Jewish family on a Friday evening after the Schabbat meal to join them for some dessert after that family had eaten their meal.  When we arrived we were offered a choice between a half stick of chewing gum or a piece of peanut brittle. Our eyes glowed with anticipation and we happily made our selection.  Unfortuately it was punctuated with the following Yiddish rhyme:  “Schön ist das Zigeunerleben, forioh, sie wollen nur nehmen und garnicht geben, forioh, sie wollen nur nehmen und gar nicht mehr, essen und trinken ist gar nicht schwer, forioh” (beautiful is the gypsy life, they only want to take and not to give, eating and drinking is not difficult).  That was the first and last time that we accepted anything from those people.  As young as we were, we fully understood the words that accompanied their generosity. The words/song that they sang that Friday evening left an indelible mark in our hearts.

We learned that it feels much better when giving without shaming the recipient or looking for rewards or anticipation of eternal gratitude from the recipient.  Giving with heart and soul enables the giver to feel worthwhile and allows the recipient to enjoy the gift and the giver.

There are of course times when one must learn to accept offerings from a giver.  One must learn graciously to take an offering.  Being unable or rejecting an offer from a giver can be very painful to the generous one.  The giver himself  will feel rejected.  As Jews and as human beings, we must be very careful not to embarrass other humans when  they have the need to give and allow them to have their gift and themselves accepted.


 Dr. Ursula A. Falk is a psychotherapist in private practice and the author of several books and articles.

Home ] Up ]