From Where I Stand
By Rabbi Yossy Goldman
“And you shall take for Me a contribution.”
The very first United Jewish Appeal was launched this week. Our parashah deals with the first fundraising campaign in history. Moses initiated it in order to build the Sanctuary in the wilderness as well as to acquire all the materials needed for the special utensils required for the sacred services. This is, therefore, a good time to talk about the art of giving.
The holy Rabbi Israel of Rizhin said that while some people claim that if you give you are a fool and if you take you are clever, Jewish tradition teaches us 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, at the same time, receiving are truly wise.
The truth is that in giving, we receive more than we give. And not only a slice of heaven in faraway paradise, but even in the here and now. Certainly, in our relationships—whether family, business, or social—our generosity is often reciprocated and we find the other party responding in kind. But it goes beyond giving in order to get back. The very fact that we have done good—that which is right, noble, and just—gives us a sense of satisfaction. “The takers of the world may eat better, but the givers of the world sleep better.”
This explains the unusual expression in our parashah, “V’yikchu li terumah”—“And you shall take for Me a contribution.” Why take? Surely, give would be the more correct term. But because in giving we are also receivers, the word take is entirely appropriate.
For the same reason, we find that the Hebrew expression for acts of loving-kindness is gemilus chasadim. It is no mistake that this is in the plural form. Because every time someone performs a single act of kindness, at least two people are benefiting—the receiver and also the giver.
I have seen people over the years who were good people, giving people, who shared and cared for others. Then, after years of being givers, they stopped. Why? They became frustrated by the lack of appreciation for all their hard work. After all, they had done for others; they never even got a simple “thank you.” So they were disappointed, disillusioned, and in some instances even bitter. They resigned from public life and from whatever community services they were involved in. How sad that they didn’t realize that even if human beings are notoriously unappreciative, G‑d Al‑mighty takes note of every act of kindness we perform. And He responds with infinite blessings in His own way. In fact, our sages taught that if we express regret over the good that we have done we might well forfeit all the merits we would have otherwise deserved.
The rabbinate is but one example of the helping professions. Anyone involved in a congregational position doesn’t only make speeches and teach Torah. One is called upon to serve in a pastoral role—visiting, helping, counseling, comforting. While it can be very taxing and often emotionally draining, it is, without doubt, a source of deep satisfaction, particularly when one is able to make a real difference in people’s lives.
There are, of course, many people I have been privileged to help in one way or another over the years. One feels a very profound sense of purpose knowing that he was able to help someone through a crisis, lift their spirits in a hospital, or give them hope and solace in a time of loss. Sure, I was the giver. But I received so much back in return. My life was rendered so much more meaningful, more worthy, for having helped a person in need.
I shall never forget the look on a young woman’s face when I gave her the good news that I had managed to locate her wayward, absentee husband and convinced him to sign on the dotted line to give her the long-awaited get, the Jewish divorce that would finally free her to get on with her life. She was so radiant, absolutely beaming with joy. Whatever efforts I had made on her behalf were well worth it just to see her feel the freedom.
So whenever you think you’re a big deal because you did something for a good cause, remember: you are receiving much more than you are giving. Let us all be givers and be blessed for it. v
Rabbi Yossy Goldman was born in Brooklyn and was sent in 1976 by the Lubavitcher Rebbe as an emissary to serve the Jewish community of Johannesburg, South Africa. He is Senior Rabbi of the Sydenham Shul and president of the South African Rabbinical Association. His sefer “From Where I Stand: Life Messages from the Weekly Torah Reading” was published by Ktav and is available at Jewish book shops or online at www.ktav.com.