Give Until It Feels Good

For anyone who has ever done fundraising, or participated in a fundraising effort, you have certainly heard the expression ‘give until it hurts’.  A good use of Jewish guilt, to be sure, but is that really going to motivate a sense of generosity?

In Exodus 25:2, God says: “Tell the Israelite people to bring Me gifts; you shall accept gifts for Me from every person whose heart is so moved.”

This is an invitation to explore and discern the true generosity of our hearts.  For the Mishkan – the sacred Tabernacle in the desert cannot be built solely upon of a sense of duty, obligation, fear or debt. Only willing and generous hearts can bring this endeavor to its fruition.

Through heart-motivated giving we show that we recognize, embrace and support the diversity of the world around us.  By giving to some cause or situation, it becomes connected to us and we become connected to it.  Giving evokes gratitude, an appreciation for what we have in a way that we understand that sharing it with others can change our lives for the better. Winston Churchill wisely said, “We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.” As we act to contribute to our world, we are reminded that change is in our hands, that we can make a difference, that we must make a difference.  Mohandas K. Gandhi said, “Be the change that you wish to see in the world” – we change the world when our hearts move us to act.

Giving untethers the soul from self-focus to free it for communal attentiveness. We are part of something larger, which gives us greater meaning and purpose in life.   What do we know about generosity, the middah – the character trait – behind giving?  I believe that a great purpose of a spiritual community is to cultivate generosity, for we only learn and experience that middah, that trait, when we are in contact with the world around us.  Generosity promotes a sense of trust and cooperation that strengthens our ties to others. Note that it is never about how much; it is about the act of giving and connecting.  Scientists also believe that altruistic behavior releases endorphins in the brain, producing the positive feeling known as the “helper’s high.” No surprise, really, that this open-hearted giving is a stress-reducer! Our tradition understands this; here, we see how it is built into our ritual and history.

However, the lesson isn’t concluded with this week’s portion.  This week and next week are all instructions of how to build the Mishkan and establish the Levites as its spiritual caretakers.  What follows these instructions in the ensuing chapters is the building of the Golden Calf by the Israelites. While that is created from the contributions of the Israelites, it is an idol born of impatience and faithlessness.  So giving of the heart is has to have a component of discernment – not just giving, but giving to good and just causes.  For me, giving provides me with a perspective of the world and my life, and keeps me from any self-pity.  Cliché as it may be, today is the day, now is the time, don’t wait: go find something today to which you are going to make an open-hearted and important contribution.  Then, keep giving until it feels good…and since it isn’t about how much but how often, keep doing it over and over!

[Terumah 2014]


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