The deeper meanings of giving — and getting
How do you convince people to receive help when they don’t want it?
A few months ago, I received a phone call from a family member of an older woman who lives in our area. The woman was aging, and shopping was becoming difficult for her. The family member asked if I could meet with her and try to help. “But it might be difficult because she is refusing to receive any help from anyone outside her family,” I was told.
I came across various tips online for how to handle these kinds of situations.
One suggestion was to explain the benefits of getting help to the person. Another emphasized building trust and showing empathy. And yet another approach was to “just let them know you are there for them whenever they need you.”
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Great ideas, but I am afraid none address the core issue.
In most cases, people are reluctant to receive help because they don’t feel comfortable being on the receiving end.
This wonderful woman put a lot of effort into becoming self-sufficient and giving back to society. The concept of being a recipient, instead of being able to provide for others, was difficult for her to accept.
I knew I had to tap into the wisdom of the Torah to get her to accept help.
The Torah presents two revolutionary ideas about giving.
Idea number one: We are God’s savings account.
Traditionally, we view charity as something we do when we feel benevolent. For example, when we give some of our wealth to charity. This money belongs to us. We worked hard to earn it. But we decide to act charitably and share some of it with those in need.
According to the Torah, some of our wealth — and by extension, our abilities — is not ours. God gave it to us for safekeeping until we find a worthy cause where the money belongs. In essence, God entrusts us to be His “savings account.”
When we help someone else, we give them what God had intended for them to have!
We can find this idea in our parsha. When discussing the mitzvah of gemilut chessed, providing interest-free loans to people in need, the Torah states: “When you lend money to My people, to the poor person with you, you shall not behave toward him as a lender; you shall not impose interest upon him.”
The words “with you” can be interpreted as referring to the poor person and the money. In other words, the money is not yours. It’s only “with you” until you find the person who needs it.
Idea number two: God created inequality so we can have relationships.
God could have given equally to everyone. He doesn’t need a savings account or a third party to deliver the goods. Still, he chose to create an unequal world because that’s the only way to foster genuine and sincere relationships.
A real relationship is about being both a giver and a receiver. And as the relationship deepens, the line between giving and receiving becomes increasingly blurred.
Because the world is unequal, we all need each other. And when we help each other, the lines are blurred: I might be giving you, but the satisfaction and the sense of purpose I receive in return are priceless.
So receiving is also an act of giving.
Ultimately, I approached the woman who needed help and said: “I need a big favor from you.”
She got excited because she was the type of person who always loved to help others. “Yes, Rabbi” she said. “I’d love to help! What can I do for you?”
“There is something you can do that will bring a big smile to my face. It will help me feel better and will make my day!”
By now, she was very curious.
“What is it?”
“Allow me to do some shopping for you. Please give me a list of the groceries and where you like shopping. Letting me do it for you is going to be very generous of you.”
She smiled and agreed.
Please God, when we give, let us remember how much we receive in return. And if we need to receive, let us remember how that is also a gracious act of kindness.
Mendy Kaminker is the rabbi of Chabad of Hackensack and an editorial member of Chabad.org. He welcomes your comments at rabbi@ChabadHackensack.com