Saturday, February 13, 2016

T’rumah: The Give and Take of Giving

This morning, I was honored to give this d'var Torah on Parashat T'rumah, which was my bat mitzvah portion four decades ago.

This week’s portion opens with these words:
The Eternal spoke to Moses, saying: Tell the Israelite people to bring Me gifts; you shall accept gifts for Me from every person whose heart so moves him. (Exodus 25:1-2)
Although this translation in the Plaut-Bamberger commentary is an accurate representation of the Hebrew, several people have suggested this more literal translation of the passage:

The Eternal spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to the Israelites and take for Me gifts from everyone who is offering of his heart; [from him] take My gifts.

This more literal wording, which is perhaps more accurate, tells us something important about gift-giving, whether the gift is a present to a friend or an offering to God. It reminds us that when we give, and give freely and willingly, we are always blessed to receive something in return, even when the receiving is not our intention at all.

Let me illustrate this dynamic of giving and taking with two instances of gift-giving in my own life:

In the first, 40-some-odd years ago, I was the giver. The gift was a set of bed linens covered in an all-over pattern of Ziggy, the bald, big-nosed, and pant-less 1970s cartoon character, and his small white dog Fuzz. Although I’d found the sheets quite by accident and long before her birthday, they would, I knew, be perfect for my sister, with whom, at the time, I followed the daily antics of Ziggy and Fuzz on the comics’ page of our local newspaper.

When her birthday finally arrived, it was I who was eager and excited – perhaps more than she was – for her to unwrap my package. Although I was the giver, I took from the experience as well – an understanding of the pure delight of giving and what it means to bring joy to another.

The second experience was much more recent, and came in the form of a friend’s holiday card that said this:

Sometimes, an idea is worth continuing. The needs of our world are great! Our giving continues to help alleviate strife and improve life in small but cumulative ways.

I hope you will once again join me in giving by designating and forwarding the enclosed check to the charity of your choice. I wish you very happy holidays and a new year full of health, happiness, and the delights of giving.

The check, with its blank payee line and my friend’s signature, was made out for $50, but the amount is irrelevant.

This time, even though it was I who was blessed with the gift, as the recipient, I took from the experience as well – the exact same understanding of the delight of giving (and in this case, the means to do so, too) as when I gave my sister those Ziggy sheets more than four decades ago.

I imagine my friend, too, took great satisfaction from his ability to give and, through the checks returned to him, from the many acts of tikkun olam his generosity made possible. Indeed, it is my hope that his gift to me and to others will, as he so rightly noted, “continue to help alleviate strife and improve life in small but cumulative ways.”

No matter what our gifts – whether cartoon character linens or making giving possible for others – may our giving always come from a willing heart, and may we always take to heart the lessons borne from the giving itself.