The Torah Perspective On Giving 

By Rabi Yoseph Kahanov Jax, Florida

Old time buddies Irving and Seymour enjoyed their golden years fishing and boating together. One afternoon, as they were off at play, a violent storm blew in from nowhere. Before long the two friends found themselves in the water clinging to their capsized boat for dear life.

Knowing that Seymour could not swim to save his life, Irving tried to help. But no matter how much he begged for Seymour’s hand, Seymour defiantly refused . No amount of pleading seemed to matter.

When Irving finally returned to shore without Seymour, he found himself gazing into the probing eyes of Seymour’s overbearing, yenta wife, who demanded an explanation .

As he described what happened, the woman insisted on knowing exactly what words Irving used in trying to save her husband. “I repeated the words GIVE ME YOUR HAND, GIVE ME YOUR HAND,” said the traumatized survivor.

Before he could finish his sentence the woman cut him off. “You killed my Seymour !” she proclaimed in a tone of absolute certainty.

Martha, have you gone mad,” cried Irving, “I did everything possible to save him.” “Irving, Irving, you should have known better than to ask Seymour to give you his hand. You know Seymour didn’t give anything to anybody. You should have said ‘take my hand’, he would have responded immediately !”

With all the talk these days about the bad economy, with so much of our attention focused on “getting,” be it government bailout grants for corporations, or stimulus incentives for individuals, this might be a good time to step back and take another look at the virtue of “giving.”

There is a popular adage that says “give until it hurts,” but is that the best way to perceive the act of giving? Is it the only way? How about “Give until it feels good,” wouldn’t that be a nicer way to think about giving? Well, it may not be so much of a fantasy after all. 

This week’s Parsha – Trumah, recalls the first fundraising campaign in Jewish history – the original United Jewish Appeal. The long and venerable tradition of Jewish philanthropy began with the collection of funds to build the Sanctuary in the wilderness and for the materials needed in its sacred services.

The response to this campaign exceeded any fundraiser’s wildest imagination. So successful was the undertaking that Moshe had to plead with people to stop giving: “Moshe summoned Bezalel, Oholiab and every wise-hearted man. .  . They took from before Moshe the entire gift that the Children of Israel had brought for the work of the labor of the Sanctuary. But the Children of Israel continued to bring free-willed gifts morning after morning. The wise people came . . . they said to Moshe as follows, ‘The people are bringing more than enough for the labor of the work that the Lord has commanded to perform.’ Moshe commanded that they proclaim throughout the camp, saying: ‘Man and woman shall not do more work [of bringing] toward the gift for the Sanctuary! And the people were restrained from bringing. The work [of bringing] was enough to do all the work and there was extra (Exodus 36:3-7).

Imagine, in their zeal to participate in the construction of the first house of worship, the people continued to contribute until Moshe had to call a halt to the giving. Contributions had to literally be turn down. What did these people know about giving that seems to elude some of us?

The Rabbi of Ruzhin once remarked: “While some claim that ‘If you give you are a fool and if you take you are clever,’ Jewish tradition teaches that those who give and think they are only giving are, in fact, the fools. But those who give and understand that they are also receiving are truly wise .

The strange thing about giving is that we actually get more than we give, and not just in some remote paradise, but in the here and now, we all know the adage: “What goes around comes around.” Many of us can relate to this on a personal level. We have actually felt the tangible and material rewards derived from our generosity .

Still, there is more to giving. The very performance of an act that is right and noble generates a sense of fulfillment and satisfaction that no amount of getting can rival. In the words of one wise man: “The takers of the world may eat better, but the givers of the world sleep better .”

This may explain the Torah’s unusual phraseology “V'yikchu Li Terumah” – and they shall take for Me a contribution.” Would not the word give be more accurate? In the above light, however, the word take is actually appropriate. It is the Torah’s way of teaching that to give is to receive .

May G‑d grant us all a giving heart and all the blessings that come with it. May we all have the ability to give in abundance and thereby hasten the coming of the righteous Moshiach.