is Better to Give
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.”
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.