William Hamilton
William Hamilton

What you get to decide

The Torah’s offering-system is rigidly legislated. With so much obligatory giving, you might sense curbs on your freedom. Yet, it turns out, free choice still obtains. Indeed, to amplify how much free agency you actually have, the opening chapters of the Book of Leviticus detail free-will offerings. You bring one when you wish to. You get to decide when to express gratitude, contentment, and generosity. It’s not accidental that the choice to bring from the Bible’s earliest offerings is entirely up to you.

When gift-giving is between us and other people, that free choice is even more widespread. Recipients are also at liberty to respond to offerings as they so desire. All of this underscores Scripture’s vast esteem for free choice.

The Hebrew word for the free-will gift at the heart of the list in this week’s portion is Mincha. We’ve met this offering before. It is brought in three stories in the Book of Genesis. Each time a painful sibling dynamic is at stake. The ways in which the gift is received vary widely. We are familiar with the regrettable outcome of Cain and Abel’s offerings (Gen. 4:3). The Mincha is then instrumental in enabling Jacob and Esau to reconcile and go their separate ways (Gen. 32:14,19,21). Finally, Joseph’s brothers make it integral to the fitful forgiveness they come to experience (Gen. 43:11, 15, 25, 26). So electing to bring a Mincha can aggravate, it can appease, and it can begin to heal.

Interpersonally, the voluntary nature of a gift presents a two-way street. The receiver’s free response is in play too. Paraphrasing author Tara Westover’s wise lesson, “You don’t get to decide how other people live. The only thing you get to decide is where to put those people in your life.”

Typically, forgiveness and reconciliation are recommended. But not always. There are times when separation is less harmful because it provides you with enough space to fondly appreciate the sweet without having it overrun by the bitter.

As we look forward to coming together again in the coming months, may our free choices rhyme harmoniously with those of others. And in those instances when they do not and cannot, may we come to value how free choice — for both giver and receiver —  may be the deepest gift of all.

About the Author
Rabbi William Hamilton has served as rabbi (mara d'atra) of Kehillath Israel in Brookline, MA since 1995.
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