By Jane E. Herman
This week’s Torah portion, T’rumah (Exodus 25:1-27:19), opens with these words: “The Eternal spoke to Moses, saying: ‘Tell the Israelite people to bring Me gifts; you shall accept gifts for Me from every person whose heart so moves him.’” (Exodus 25:1-2)
Although this translation is an accurate representation of the Hebrew, several people have suggested this more literal translation of the passage: “The Eternal spoke to Moses, saying: ‘Speak to the Israelite people and take for Me gifts from everyone who is offering of his heart; [from him] take My gifts.’”
This more literal wording, which perhaps is more accurate, tells us something important about gift-giving, whether the gift is a present to a friend or an offering to God. It reminds us that when we give, and give freely, willingly, and from the heart, we are always blessed to receive something in return, even when the receiving is not our intention at all.
Let me illustrate this dynamic of giving and taking with a few instances of gift-giving (and receiving) in my own life.
In the first, 40-some-odd years ago, I was the giver. The gift was a set of bed sheets covered in an all-over pattern of Ziggy, the bald, big-nosed, and pant-less 1970s cartoon character, and his small white dog, Fuzz. Although I’d found the sheets quite by accident and long before her birthday, my sister, I knew, would flip over them. At the time, she and I closely followed the daily antics of Ziggy and Fuzz in the comics’ page of our local newspaper.
When her birthday finally arrived, it was I who was eager and excited—perhaps more than she was—for her to unwrap my package. Although I was the giver, I took from the experience a clear and unmistakable understanding of the pure delight of giving and bringing joy to another.
The second experience was more recent—perhaps five or six years ago—and came in the form of a holiday card from a friend, z”l, that said this:
“Sometimes, an idea is worth continuing. The needs of our world are great! Our giving continues to help alleviate strife and improve life in small but cumulative ways.
I hope you will once again join me in giving by designating and forwarding the enclosed check to the charity of your choice. I wish you very happy holidays and a new year full of health, happiness, and the delights of giving.”
The check, with its blank payee line and my friend’s signature, was made out for $50, but the amount is irrelevant.
This time, even though it was I who was blessed with the gift, as the recipient, I took from the experience as well—the exact same understanding of the delight of giving (and in this case, the means to do so, too) as when I gave my sister those Ziggy sheets more than four decades ago.
I imagine my friend, too, took great satisfaction in his ability to give and the many acts of tikkun olam his generosity made possible. Especially now that he is gone, it is my hope that his gift to me and to others, as he so rightly noted, “continue[d] to help alleviate strife and improve life in small but cumulative ways.”
One more story: Only a few weeks ago (on the eve of my birthday), after secretly unpacking an Amazon box in a bedroom of our dad’s home, my sister said to me, “I can’t wait to give you one of your gifts, which might even be better than the Ziggy sheets!” The next morning, my delight—upon unwrapping a throw pillow etched with the likeness of Dr. Anthony Fauci on its front and back—was matched only by my sister’s unbridled excitement in having found and given the perfect pandemic birthday gift! But that we are now middle-aged women, the decades between the giving of the sheets and the giving of the pillow disappeared amidst our gleeful giggles.
No matter what our gifts—whether fun linens, fostering others’ giving, or a pillow honoring the scientist of the hour—may our giving always come from a willing heart, and may we take to heart the lessons born of the giving itself.