In this week’s parsha Hashem commands Am Yisrael to collect donations for the Mishkan. The language used, however, seems difficult: “ויקחו לי תרומה—and you shall take for me a donation.” Shouldn’t Hashem have said “you shall give to me a donation”? Why use the word “take” when referring to the act of giving?
Many commentaries suggest an extremely poignant answer. Hashem is using the Mishkan donations to teach a fundamental lesson: the power of giving. While the contemporary view of giving is that a person loses each time he gives to another, Judaism believes that when one gives, he ultimately receives more in return. The act of giving to another—from one’s resources, knowledge, or giving of oneself—can have a powerfully meaningful impact upon one’s life.
Many sources stress the importance of giving and bestowing kindness. Dovid Hamelech in Sefer Tehillim declares “עולם חסד יבנה, the world is built upon chesed,” and the Mishnah at Avot 1:2 famously lists גמילת חסדים, acts of kindness, as one of three pillars upon which the world stands. Upon further reflection we see that the act of giving impacts all of our relationships: our relationship with God, with those around us, and with ourselves.
The Ramchal in Mesilat Yesharim writes that God created man in order to give to him and to allow him to benefit from God’s own splendor. King David’s proclamation עולם חסד יבנה can thus be understood in a deeper sense: It means the world itself was created so that God could give to man. When an individual gives to another, therefore, he imitates God and expresses his own “Godliness.” Thus each time an individual acts as a giver, he grows in his relationship with Hashem.
In Michtav Me’eliyahu, Rav Eliyahu Dessler notes as well the powerful effect that giving has on interpersonal relationships. While it is commonly perceived that people “give because they love,” Rav Dessler argues that in reality, people “love because they give.” The more we give to another, the more we come to love that person. That is why the most powerful love is that of a parent to a child, as parents give endlessly to their children. Rav Dessler adds that the Hebrew word for love, אהבה, comes from the Aramaic word הב, to give—to emphasize this point.
And giving also has a profound impact on our relationship with ourselves. Many note that the Hebrew word for giving, נתן, is a palindrome—read the same way in both directions—to highlight that one who gives really receives in return. In his commentary on Pirkei Avot, Mr. Irving Bunim adds that the words גמילות חסדים are phrased in the plural—to show that “every act of kindness is, in reality, a two-fold act. While you are certainly doing something for the next man, you are also doing something for yourself.” (“Ethics from Sinai” pg. 44)
We must work hard to raise our kids as givers. Children are naturally self-absorbed and egocentric, and if left to their own devices would continue that way throughout. From an early age, therefore, we must cultivate within them the importance of giving. The more they experience the wonder that comes with making someone happy, the more they express this “Godliness” within themselves, the more it will become a part of who they are.
And as each child grows and becomes more thoughtful and independent, the importance of giving must be stressed even more. A “bar/bat mitzvah chesed project” can become a powerful tool for a child to take responsibility and help someone less fortunate as they celebrate their milestone. However, chesed cannot become a one-time rite of passage; it must become an integral part of their lives. Many studies show that one way to help “at-risk” teenagers is to help them become givers—helping and mentoring others. This experience provides them with a sense of purpose and connection, thus igniting their Godliness. Clearly, the attainment of such meaning and purpose could enrich the life of any teenager.
How to raise children as givers? To close with a few practical points:
As noted, we must consciously begin teaching this early on. The earlier that kindness is ingrained in our children’s psyche, the more natural it will be for them. Seek out opportunities for your child to help others, and help them experience the amazing feeling that such opportunities bring.
Another way to help our children become givers is to allow them to give to us. This means to happily accept a gift that you don’t want; simply to enable them to learn how to give. By graciously accepting the picture your toddler made, or letting him help build the sukkah although you could’ve done it quicker yourself, you permit your children to give to you, allowing them to feel the beauty of giving and the incredible satisfaction that comes with it.
As with most important lessons, modeling is crucial. If we live our lives as givers—if we show our children what it means to give, both within and outside the family—then our children will absorb firsthand the value of being givers themselves.
Rav Yossi Goldin is a teacher and administrator who teaches in a number of seminaries and yeshivot across Israel. He currently lives in Shaalvim with his wife and family. He can be reached at [email protected]