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Lazer Gurkow

Miketz: Living is Giving

Living is giving is one of the themes of this week’s Torah portion. Joseph rose to prominence in Egypt because of his ability to interpret Pharoh’s dreams. He accurately predicted a seven-year period of plenty when all harvests would be bountiful. The Middle East would enter a phase of incalculable prosperity.

At such times, people indulge in decadent luxuries; the more hedonic, the better. No one thinks about the future when the coffers are overflowing. No one wants to think about the wheel of fortune that turns on a dime and leaves us penniless. But Joseph also predicted that the seven years of plenty would be followed by seven years of famine. He advised Egyptians to set in stores for the future, and they did.

When the famine began, only Egyptians had food. The rest of the region fell into a terrible depression. There was not a morsel to be had. Concerned for the future and about being overrun by the entire region, the Egyptians were not prone to sharing. Joseph, however, was perfectly prepared to share.

This is when the moment of truth arrived. When the Egyptians opened their cupboards, they discovered, to their chagrin, that it had all rotted away. Joseph’s stores, however, were in pristine condition. Joseph didn’t have a better preservation method. The Egyptians were privy to the cutting-edge preservation techniques of their time. The reason was spiritual. Those who intended to hoard did not deserve their stores. He who intended to share had a need for his stores.

The Egyptians had no choice but to get in line with members of all other nationalities. Joseph fed everyone equally. He had no choice but to charge for the food because the stores belonged to Pharaoh, not Joseph. But the entire world saw that Joseph understood the meaning of life: Living is giving. If you are not prepared to give, you have no reason to live.

Who Helps Whom?
Conventional wisdom says that the giver is the benefactor. Jewish wisdom teaches that the recipient is the benefactor. The recipient does more for the giver than the giver does for the recipient. The recipient receives ingredients necessary for living. The giver receives the deep fulfillment and meaningful satisfaction that can only come from giving. The giver gives the recipient life; the recipient provides the giver with the meaning of life. And what is life without meaning? Living is giving. It is only when you give that you learn how to live.

The other day, I was on line at the grocery store when a family in front of me left nearly half their items in the cart. Their young son asked why they weren’t buying those items, and the mother replied morosely, “Because I’m broke.” Immediately, I asked the cashier to charge those items to me and give them to this family. When they realized what happened, they thanked me profusely several times over.

But I felt I did not deserve to be thanked. Any sane person would do what I did. I owed them gratitude for giving me such a meaningful encounter in the store. I went to the store to buy food, but because they were there, I experienced a moment of immortal value and infinite meaning. It was I who was indebted to them. It is only when you give that you learn how to live because, indeed, living is giving.

DINK
There is a relatively new phenomenon on TikTok that epitomizes the I generation. It is called DINK—Double Income No Children. Couples who choose to live childless are posting videos on TikTok to glorify their choice. John Erringman from Cincinnati posted, “We’re DINKs, we get into snobby hobbies like skiing and golfing,” His Finance Paige added, “We can go to Florida on a whim, we get a full eight hours of sleep, and sometimes more.” In a subsequent interview, He added, “I see a lot of our friends partaking in the same activities as us, They’re going on vacations, they’re going to Europe, they’re starting side hustles, and none of that would be possible with kids at a young age.”

The sad fact is that more and more couples are choosing to live without kids. According to the US Census Bureau, 43% of households today are without children. 44% of childless people between the ages of 18 and 49 say they are not too likely to have kids, according to a 2021 Pew Research Study.

They place personal gain and hedonism ahead of altruism and transcendence. We are born selfish. I have yet to hear of an infant who chooses to wait till morning with his dirty diaper so his mother can get some sleep. In childhood, we are pampered and nurtured because we are too young to fend for ourselves. But as we get older, we learn responsibility. This is the beginning of the selflessness curve. Rather than demanding from others, we step up and do for ourselves.

As we assume responsibility for ourselves, we mature emotionally and discover our human spirit. But when we take responsibility for others, our maturity curve kicks into overdrive. We learn that there are more important things in life than pleasure and fun. When those who depend on us need us, we step up to the plate. When we set aside our desires to discharge our duty, we discover our spirit.

But never more than when we marry. This is when we learn to compromise and share the most intimate parts of ourselves. We accommodate another’s preferences even in our home. We learn that if we want to be touched on the deepest level, we must share from that space. We must tap and share a part of ourselves that has been closed since birth. Marriage is when we really learn the depth of the adage: living is giving.

Nevertheless, nothing compares to the devotions of child-rearing. Having a child is the ultimate commitment. It means we need to be there for another as someone was once there for us. Just as we relied on our parents for our every whim at all hours, so will someone rely on us. It won’t matter if we are tired or on vacation. If our child needs us, we are always there. This is living is giving in its ultimate form.

If we throw that away for hedonistic stints, we will never transcend our shallow selves and never discover our true depths. We will never experience the meaningful fulfillment that comes from ultimate giving. It feels like a good deal in our youth, but when we grow older, and our youthful vigor and charm fade, all we have to look back at are meaningless escapades. And we wonder what we have accomplished in life.

Regrets
Melissa Persling recently wrote an essay for Business Insider in which she shared her regrets. As a young woman, she decided that marriage and family were not for her. She was unwilling to make the sacrifices and compromises that either required. Travel, career, and excitement came first for her. With time, her preferences changed. To her amazement, she began to think about marriage and children. She wanted to build a life with someone, not just enter it when convenient.

Melissa observed, “I also began to feel selfish for spending so much time focusing solely on myself. I went from proudly proclaiming I was too self-centered to be bothered with a family to realizing there was more to life than independence and the pleasures of living for oneself. My very existence started to feel shallow and hollow. At nearly 39, I feel panicked thinking I’ll be a single, childless middle-aged woman . . . At my age . . . creating life may not be an option . . . men who want a family aren’t looking for a woman pushing 40. I get it; I’m no longer the ideal candidate for motherhood, and it’s a scary truth.”

In a subsequent interview, she talked about her hopes for a modest, meaningful, and happy future. “Moving into my future, I’m not going to be traveling. I’m not going to have a lot of extra money. I’m not going to be going out for fancy dinners, and I’m OK with that. I’m ready for that. I think that’s what’s really going to make me happy. Like, I’m so done just making myself happy. You think you’re happy when you do all these things to make yourself happy. I don’t think you really are. It’s the relationships that make you happy. It’s building something with another person. It’s creating a life with another person and having goals and plans with another person. It’s making other people happy. Making people you love happy. That’s happiness.”

Joseph sought to teach the Egyptians that living is giving. Melissa discovered this secret at just the right age. She still has a chance. Let us learn from her mistake and teach our children better: don’t be a DINK.

About the Author
Rabbi Lazer Gurkow, a renowned lecturer, serves as Rabbi to Congregation Beth Tefilah in London Ontario. He is a member of the curriculum development team at Rohr Jewish Learning Institute and is the author of two books and nearly a thousand online essays. You can find his work at www.innerstream.org