The hidden G^d
The Purpose of Life
Rabbi Dessler says: The whole of Judaism has only one goal, to transform a baby who knows how to receive into a grownup who knows how to give.
Since sky and ground are shaped in later verses, these words in the first Torah verse must imply something else. The Natziv suggests they mean all kinds of giving, respectively receiving, as the first two things G^d created.
When the L^rd is talking [life, all we have] away, [remember] that the L^rd has given [it all] (Job 1:21). When we give, we emulate the ultimate Giver. But, in a clever ploy, much of His generosity is distributed via other people.
Famously, our Rabbis teach that G^d created the world to give in the most perfect way because He is perfect and so can’t lack generosity. So, instead of giving us eternal life with eternal bliss for free, He makes us work for it because we are more satisfied with earning a salary than with free gifts. But, maybe His greatest generosity is that He gave us the ability to give!
I’ll give you an example. Say someone got sick, Heaven forbid. Then, so many people will be able to try and be with the patient, take care of their needs, nurse them, and try to heal them. But not only that. G^d allows us to pray for their health. So, if they recover, it’s with our input. And if they don’t, G^d forbid, we did all we could, which is also very giving.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe was the most perfect giver of our generation I ever saw. Two times, I witnessed he was given something and he gave back immediately five-fold. He told me: There’s no greater receiving than from giving. As also the Hebrew Bible says (Proverbs 11:25, Jewish numbering).
Wim Kan said: If everyone would make one person happy, everyone would be happy. Perhaps he didn’t mean that would make eight billion loved ones happy but the eight billion lovers?
The Sayings of the Leaders already says that the reward for a virtuous deed is a virtuous deed. Most explain: That we get to do some next virtuous deed. I would suggest that it can mean: That we got to do a virtuous deed. What a gift we received so we may live by our deepest wishes!
One of the greatest days in history is the Receiving of the Torah at Mount Sinai. Yet, for Jews who study what we received, more revelations come down every day. An unbelievable generosity. But a greater generosity is that we are allowed to pass on what we received. The Sages tell us: The Rabbis don’t need any reward for teaching because they are like cows more grateful to be milked than the farmer is for the milk.
The Rabbis teach us that G^d created the world unfinished, for us to perfect it together with Him for great reward. For that purpose, the world is just right. However, you can see this from a different angle. The world was created imperfectly with lots of unfulfilled needs: tiredness, hunger, illness, thirst, war, anger, theft, etc. to give us a chance to relieve suffering.
Generosity is not only with money. Giving our time, a compliment, a smile, to push in our chair after we got up from the table, etc. gives us a chance to be generous and compassionate continuously. That is exactly what Maimonides advises, to give frequently small sums rather than rarely some lumpsum, to get into a habit of giving. And, giving with a smile is infinitely more generous than cold-faced. Usually, Rabbis listen, advise, and teach without any pay. That’s a solid training to be large if there ever was one.
Try not just to give what you want to discard or what you would like to receive, but what the receiver would like to get. Some people feel poor with what for others is enough; you can give them more. But not money to an addict. Try to give not because you should but because you want to, choose to, because it’s such a high expression of your essence.
Harvey Jackins told a story of a boy trapped in a ruthless boarding school. He was caught throwing something over the institution’s wall and brought to the principal’s office. When he was about to be reprimanded, the object he tossed was carried in. It was a piece of paper. Unfolded and flattened it read: “Whoever you are, I love you.” We need to love/give, more than we need to be loved/given. Generosity is its own reward. We’re built for it. We flourish when we give more than when we have or get. Get a gift and you may be grateful for a while; give a gift and you’d never forget it.
The Giving Sex
Popular ‘wisdom’ has it that one can only give and love if one first receives and is loved properly. Billions of women prove every day that’s untrue. Most people, who are given feel an urge to reciprocate. But many still don’t. Which doesn’t stop most givers from giving. Though, eventually, your well of generosity kind of dries up, against your deeper wishes.
Judaism teaches that women are holier than men. One of the prime ways that shows is in their life-long giving. Yes, selfish women exist, but almost all women constantly give generously, with gifts often not acknowledged, even by themselves. And exceptions don’t become the norm.
Story time. When I was young, I lived in a commune in Amsterdam. Of course, we were modern so we would split home-keeping equally. But, as so often, the women did much more than the men. I studied it. Turns out that after dinner, these ’emancipated’ young-adult men were exhausted from a long day and a full stomach. We really were. We would read the papers and say: We’ll do it soon. But, our female counterparts would say: I’m exhausted (they really were). Let’s clean up the kitchen so that we can sit. We tried the following policy. After dinner, women were forbidden in the kitchen, and men must clean up immediately. This was great stuff. A chance for the men to talk to each other (instead of always using women to have an ear). But, the women? They stood at the kitchen door, begging to be let in. “If we can join you, it will be done quicker.” Contrary to what some scientists say, gender conditioning, not gender roles, messes it up.
So, I never told my daughter to help clear the table. I told her to stay seated. I was sure she’d pick up the expectation that she would serve everywhere. But, my sons I often told to help so that their wives would not suffer needlessly. My kids are now young adults, each one very giving.
On average, women work much more than men, mostly without credit or pay. This may be one of the reasons why they live longer. When Rabbis say in their sermons and lessons that we should all be less selfish, they should exclude women. Many Mizrachi Rabbis stress to honor wives and say thank you because they do so much more than we are ever aware of.
The only way to be fair for a heterosexual man is to give continuously although it will be impossible to match fully all that women put out.
The Poverty Delusion
There are two kinds of people. There are the people who come in and say: Here I am! And then some enter and say: There you are! There are many people who would come in from the cold, give you a cold hand and say: Oh, your hands are so nicely warm, without realizing you just got a cold hand from them. But empathy can be learned.
Life is not: give and take; it is: give and receive. Since we are not G^d, we also need to receive and have. The Rabbis teach us to give to charity 20% of what we received maximally so that won’t end up dependent on charity ourselves from our generosity. We don’t need to give away all our time to others. We have needs too and need to receive as well. But don’t just grab.
And, charity starts at home. To play the philanthrope outside while ignoring your partner and kids is generosity with stolen goods: theft.
“You open Your hand,” the Psalm says. In some traditions, this is recited while opening one’s hands to show that we are ready to receive. Maybe one day, we can open our hands just in acknowledgment of how much we received and are receiving already.
Arrogance is about the worst character trait. Torah knowledge is like water, going from high to low, from haughty to humble. In Sayings of the Leaders, we read that someone wise is not someone who knows a lot but people who (are humble enough to) learn from everyone. One despicable aspect of arrogance is the entitlement attitude. The first law is to not take more than anyone else. The second is to be pleased with what you’ve got. And the third is to share it. The Sages teach us that the more one has, the more one want. Who has 50 wants 100. Who has 100 wants 200. Who has 200 wants 400. Not only is it never enough. The more you have, the more you lack. But we are also told that too much wealth only gives problems. It’s difficult to justify it, we’re afraid to lose it, and do we have real friends? The US is one of the richest nations on earth and consumes the most anti-depressants and hours at the shrink. I don’t think you can blame it all on psychiatrists. It’s the mistaken notion, sealed into its Constitution, that all are entitled to the pursuit of happiness (money) instead of being happy.
Jealousy is one of the worst illnesses. If everyone’s happy for their fellow’s good fortune and satisfied with their lives, there will be no evil eye left. If there is no just, legal, and benevolent way to get something, it means G^d doesn’t want me to have it. And since He loves me, it’s all for my good.
One deep and silly form of stinginess is not agreeing that others are right, just because you think differently. You’re right, but so are they. This means they have a reason why they say what they say. Less ego, more flexibility.
Smile to others. It cost you nothing. It doesn’t take away from your happiness. Some things only get more abundant when we hand them out. At the beginning of the Month of Adar, we’re supposed to enlarge happiness. It doesn’t say: your happiness. It’s perfectly fine to make more people happier. And, of course, that will rub off on your mood too.
To Spoil or Not to Spoil?
What is called spoiling kids is not spoiling. You can’t give a child too much attention. You can’t love them too much. With gifts as a poor substitute for empathy. There’s no such thing as showing excessive kindness.
Real spoiling happens when we don’t say No when we should. We can say it friendly. We may allow for tears, words of protest, and negotiations. But in any case, sometimes No is the kindest thing to say. No, you can’t play with the utility knife. No, you can’t put anything into the outlet. No, you can’t cross the street on your own. No, you can’t scream to get attention. No, you can’t hit others. No, you don’t look what others have on their plate—I’m trying to be fair, and you don’t need to check. No, you can’t always be the first. No, you’re the best but not more than others.
Holy Nos should not be our main word of communication. It should not always be for selfish reasons—though sometimes we can say we can’t, and we’ll do it as soon as possible. We can learn to say No as if we hand them the moon (it’s a big present). We can explain when things are calm, that most of the time, No means No for now. We can teach them to negotiate, like: I will do this if you do that. We can make the relationship more equal and fairer and them less incapable by welcoming their Nos too.
When we never put down our foot, the children don’t feel loved. They actually feel abandoned—and they are right. They feel unloved.
How can we know if we’re generous or stingy with our kids? Ask them to sit on a high chair and sit on the ground. Ask them to talk to you as if you are them and they are you. Listen well. So far, it’s easy, at least in theory.
We can teach our kids to negotiate with each other. If you want the same thing now, maybe one goes first now, the other next time.
What I find really puzzling is that when we are very giving to our kids, we train them to receive, not necessarily to be generous too. Some kids are generous from birth; they really are. Some from taking your example. But some are really self-centered. You must ask them to give before they get the idea. Sometimes that only comes when they are big. But sometimes it’s not there, no matter how much you did for them. Or, sometimes, the more you gave, the more they won’t reciprocate. Heart-breaking. Maybe, we just trained them to receive. Children expected to give will give. But we might need to watch it not to overburden them, not make them resentful.
However, it seems that mainly grownups can take and receive and truly consider themselves generous with only some token giving to show for. If you’re the generous type, don’t marry a taker. You will get exhausted.
My suggestion is to sometimes say to our kids: I don’t feel like agreeing, but I do it for you because you deserve it. Don’t pretend that giving is only for when you feel like it. And don’t forget to say that sometimes, we only feel good about giving after we gave. Receiving can be charming, but how long does it take for the glow wears off? But when we gave to someone, we become a permanent part of their life story. We remember it forever.
Someone who is constantly displeased or dissatisfied is missing how much they are receiving. No number of gifts can change that. Maybe a good cry about disappointment can help. Disappointment is not that the universe acted wrongly but that (apparently), we miscalculated the realistic and factual future. I’m grateful that I received these thoughts, happy to give them to you, and I hope that you’ll be inspired and pass them on.