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Bamidbar Give and Take

Submitted by on June 5, 2016 – 1:03 amNo Comment | 1,919 views

Give and Take in Life
When my great aunt was a little girl she lived in a large apartment. Times were difficult, many of her family’s friends were homeless and she was routinely asked to give up her bed for someone in need. One day she complained to her father about the constant need to give away her bed. Her father replied, “In life there are givers and recipients, be thankful that you are a giver. Imagine if you had to receive.”

Note that her father said, givers and recipients. He didn’t say givers and takers. There is no shame in receiving just as there is no shame in giving, but taking is an entirely different matter. There is rarely, if ever, justification for taking.

The Talmud tells a story about Rabbi Chanina Ben Dosa, who once prayed that He be blessed with money to feed his family and a gold bar appeared at his door. That night his wife dreamed that she and her husband were seated at a golden table in paradise, but unlike the tables of their contemporaries, their table had only three legs. When she asked about the fourth leg she was told that they had used the fourth leg on earth.

Upon waking, she related her dream and asked her husband to pray that the gold bar be taken back so that they could enjoy it in heaven. Her husband prayed and the bar disappeared. The Talmud concluded that the second miracle was greater than the first. Because heaven gives easily, but rarely ever takes.[1]

G-d Almighty is a giver, He never takes. Taking is shameful. On this one occasion, an exception was made to accommodate the request of a holy man, but otherwise, the Almighty never takes. Taking is plain wrong. Receiving, on the other hand, is an entirely different matter. Receiving is honorable.

Give and Take in Marriage
There are two ways to contribute, one by providing, the other by receiving. The masculine trait is to contribute by providing. The man loves to provide and protect. If he cannot give, he feels inadequate. The feminine trait is to nurture, empower and validate through wholesome receiving.

There is an art to receiving. Wholesome and proper receiving comes with warm admiration, honest gratitude and a frank communication of how much the gift has meant. When a woman receives her husband’s offering with frank admiration and wholehearted praise, her husband feels empowered and validated. Nothing thrills a man more than to know that he can make a difference in someone’s life, especially someone he loves. When he is made to believe that his contribution is of value, he is empowered and emboldened to do it again.

He contributes by providing. She contributes by receiving with love. In fact, her contribution is greater than his. He provides something specific. She provides validation for his masculinity, empowerment for his humanity and nurture for his entire spirit.

What emerges is that giving and receiving are both valid ways to contribute. Taking on the other hand, is shameful. There is nothing constructive in taking. Taking means to help yourself to what belongs to another. A happy and healthy relationship entails giving and receiving love, respect, admiration, nurture and pleasure. The moment we feel entitled to take from our spouse, the relationship is ruined.

Give and Take in Heaven
Heaven gives freely, but never takes. Ostensibly this statement refers to gifts showered upon us from heaven. G-d Almighty gives gifts, He doesn’t take them back. Yet, when you unpack these words properly, you find a deep insight.

The Almighty gives us life, health, time, family, prosperity, energy etc. What we do with these gifts is our choice. One option is to use them for ourselves. Another option is to use them to make this world a holier and more G-dly place. This is another way of saying that we can choose to give our gifts back to G-d. If we do this, G-d will accept them. He will receive our gifts, but He won’t take them.

For G-d to take them would mean that He is entitled to them, that we are required to give them back to G-d. But He didn’t give us these gifts for us to return them. He gave them so we could use them. We could use them for selfish purpose or for holy purpose, but either way He gave them for us to use.

We were not meant to isolate ourselves from social company, deprive ourselves of worldly pleasure and eschew family and career in favor of asceticism and Torah study. If that were the Divine intent for human life, it would have meant that He gave us all these gifts just to take them back. G-d Almighty gives, He does not take. (Unless a holy man begs Him to take them on a particular occasion.)

He gives us food so we could enjoy it in a kosher way and thank Him by chanting our blessings. He gives us a house so we could live a vibrant Jewish family life in it. He gives us a yard so we could invite friends and conduct meaningful conversation in a relaxing environment. He gives us these gifts so that we could use them to make this world holy. When we use them for holy purpose, G-d receives them from us and grants us holiness. But He doesn’t ask us to turn down these gifts and essentially give them back.

Judaism began in a dessert, where Jews were isolated from social interaction and from most of life’s pleasures. But it was never the intent for us to remain in the desert. The desert was an ideal place for us to train for our mandate. To study Torah and learn the Jewish lifestyle without distraction. But as soon as our training was complete, we were instructed to march forward.

This week we begin to read the fourth book of the Torah. In English we call it Numbers, in Hebrew we call it, the book of the Desert. Yet the book is filled with episodes that describe engagement with people, life and its pleasures. This is because G-d never intended for us to remain in isolation. He gave us life so we could live it His way. He gave us pleasure so we could enjoy them His way. And He gave us energy so we could invest it His way.

Happiest In Our Mode
We are happiest when we are in our mode. These is a streak of femininity in all men and masculinity in all women. This is why men often receive and women often give. But a masculine that never gives and a feminine that never receives is out of synch and unhappy.

We can be happy for a time in the opposite mode because there is receiving in giving and giving in receiving. But we can never be happy with taking because there is nothing constructive in that. Sometimes we get jealous of what others have and feel that if we took it from them we would be happy. Ultimately we find that there is no happiness in taking. It never makes us happy. It always leaves us gloomy. Because when we take from others, we take even more from ourselves.

G-d Almighty is the ultimate giver. He usually gives and often receives because when G-d receives from us, He is still giving. But He never takes because taking is not in His Milieu. Taking is selfish and that word is not in the Divine lexicon.[2]

[1] Babylonian Talmud, Taanis 25a. See Shmos Rabbah 52:3 where a similar story is told of R Shimon Ben Chalafta.

[2] The only time we refer to G-d as taking is at a funeral. When our time is up, G-d takes us back.