Thursday, February 7, 2008


"Tell the Israelite people to bring Me gifts;you shall accept gifts for Me from every person whose heart so moves him."(Exodus 25:2)
The Torah reading this week,"Terumah," opens with the invitation to Israel to donate toward the construction of a sacred space so that " I may dwell among them."
Why do people give? What motivates or moves the heart to respond with an act of generosity?
For most, to give is to protect or gain for oneself. We give out of fear-if we don't give, we believe that we may be punished or misfortune will befall us.We give in order to receive. I will give now as an investment in my own protection and well being. It is not uncommon for fund-raisers to refer to or even exploit a feeling of guilt as a powerful vehicle of influence to bring about a giving response.
I would like to understand the motive for giving in another way. Giving-in Hebrew-"Gemilut Hassadim"-generosity, compassion, kindness, - is a natural extension and the tangible externalization of the spiritual state of gratefulness . As one recognizes all of life as a gift, one wishes to reciprocate. Sharing flows from an understanding that nothing ultimately belongs to anyone and everything belongs to everyone, and to the Source of all things.
When we pray we don't necessarily ask for things; we link ourselves to the essence of life that we understand to be “chessed”, love, kindness and compassion.
To pray is to see the world from the perspective of compassion. This awareness prompts compassionate action .The words “genius” and “generous” come from the same Latin root “genere”, to generate, to “beget.” The spiritual genius of living is being grateful in a way that begets generosity and compassion. “We live by the conviction that acts of goodness reflect the hidden light of His Holiness…it is within our power to mirror His unending love in deeds of kindness, like brooks that hold the sky.” (Heschel)
The quality of compassion is the essential and indispensable component of Godliness and as such every act of compassion is indeed a reflection of God’s reality and Holiness. Towards the end of his life, Heschel said "When I was young, I used to admire people of intelligence; as I grow older, I admire people of kindness.”
In my spiritual quest I have always battled the feeling of having to do something good because it was an obligation. Often, the motivation for goodness was fear , of punishment or misfortune. I yearned for another way, another rationale that would be kinder and gentler than – Thou shalt or Thou shalt not. Prayer as the way to gratefulness was the approach that I began to arrive at by which to respond more kindly and compassionately to the world.
The Hebrew word for giving in our Torah text is "V'yikhu"-take, and the recipient is "li"-Me, God. In other words, "Take unto Me." Some commentators understand this phrase differently.
"V'Yikhu li" suggests gifts that were originally Mine and I shared them with you. The individuals heart is moved by the feeling of thankfulness and gratefulness in acknowledging that everything originates with God's giving. As such, the hand responds graciously and generously, with an open heart, a heart overflowing with gratefulness.
It is only in this way, through the path of gratefulness, that we can erect a space of sanctity so that the godly will dwell in our midst.
Shabbat Shalom.

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