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Gratitude and the Reciprocity of Giving

 

After a significant period of introspection and reflection associated with the High Holidays and the holiday of Sukkot, we enter a period of time that seems to put an emphasis on our external relationships. Whether you celebrate Thanksgiving by spending time with family, sharing recipes, watching football or enjoying the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade (my daughters still consider the dog show a highlight!), this holiday has become the harbinger of shopping mania that inevitably follows. Even as shopping moves increasingly online, this time of the year tends to be one of giving and receiving.

This got me thinking about the nature of giving and receiving. Not unlike meaningful communication, the act of giving requires an act of receiving to be fully realized – and the two acts are often reciprocal. Just as one person who has something to give is able to share with another person, the recipient in return gives the provider the opportunity to engage in this generous act and, consequently, their roles reverse.

Naturally, that the act of giving and receiving are intertwined may not be very surprising; however, a key component that elevates this sort of exchange is the vital concept of gratitude. This applies to more than merely a physical exchange. After all, it’s a mitzvah to give charity; however, there are many forms of giving that extend well beyond a financial gift. Among those that come to mind: giving of time, giving support, providing honest feedback, sharing words of praise and/or comfort, sharing a skill or offering mentorship. Each of these types of giving invites a reciprocal gift that manifests through strengthening relationships and building community – no matter how big or small.

Gratitude is a familiar theme in Judaism, and perhaps one of the most recognizable phrases associated with gratitude can be found in Tehillim (Psalms 145:15). Recited daily during prayers (in the Ashrei), and for some prior to saying the Hamotzi prayer over bread. People often recite with their right hand open and palm facing upwards.

Verse 18 – Tehillim 145:16
פּוֹתֵחַ אֶת-יָדֶךָ; וּמַשְׂבִּיעַ לְכָל-חַי רָצוֹן
Poteach Et YaDehCha; UMasBeAh LeKahl Chai RahTzon

The literal translation of this verse:
“Open your hand, and satisfy every living thing with favor.”

In this case, apparently the hand in question is G-d’s and, while it may be more figurative than literal, I don’t believe that the phrase is an accident. It is meant to provide an action to emulate.

Just as G-d is generous with society, we too should be generous with each other.

You may be familiar with the tradition of gematria, where letters and words in Hebrew are counted and arranged to discover additional symbolism and meaning. When viewing this verse, one may notice that it is comprised of 24 Hebrew letters and 7 Hebrew words. Some interpret this simple observation as supportive of the notion that G-d is ever-present and provides for humanity in perpetuity – literally 24/7.

It is sometimes difficult to feel protected and supported, particularly in the midst of tragedy and loss. It is no coincidence that Judaism expects us to connect with each other regularly – especially during our most difficult moments. As we look forward to spending time with family and friends and reflect on the enormous losses we may have felt in recent months, we can choose to find inspiration and gratitude in their legacies, and solace and comfort in the generosity of others.

May we be able to give of ourselves to others and feel grateful for the many blessings that we have experienced and continue to experience.

Wishing you and your loved ones a meaningful and enjoyable Thanksgiving!

B’Shalom,

Behzad Dayanim, Chief Learning Officer
November 12, 2019

 

Read Behzad Dayanim’s previous blog posts here.

 


In 2018, the Friedman Commission for Jewish Education (CJE) became a part of the Jewish Federation of Palm Beach County. Together, Federation and CJE share a unified desire to elevate Jewish education and engagement throughout our community. As Federation’s center for Jewish learning, our goal is to create and support programs throughout the community, serve as an expert resource, and provide unique opportunities for direct engagement. We invite you to engage in Jewish life and learning here in the Palm Beaches, and look forward to helping you navigate your unique Jewish journey.

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