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By Rabbi David Wolpe
June 1, 2016
IDEAS
David Wolpe is the Max Webb Senior Rabbi of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles.

“I’m a giver.” How often have we heard those words followed by a pause that expects praise? How wonderful that you are a giver. Well, maybe. I’m here to speak on behalf of receivers.

The giver is the controller. The one who gives always has a handle on the situation. The one who says: “This is what I give, and this is how I give it.” More than that, the giver is the one to whom the receiver feels indebted. The giver can feel good about himself, because not only is he in a position to give, but he also has the moral high ground.

All too often it is the giver who determines the needs of the receiver as well. There are times when a gift can be an act of aggression—here is a gift for which you must be grateful. If someone gives you a gift and you don’t want it or like it, you seem ungracious. Yet as a receiver you did not ask for the situation, and now are expected to pretend that it is wonderful even when you feel that it is not.

Of course, not all givers feel all these things, but it is constant temptation and not all that rare. How many gifts are offered without any unspoken conditions at all? Often they are conditional gifts, with memory strings attached—”Remember when I gave you that wonderful present? Surely you would not oppose me now?”

But here is another truth about some who think of themselves as givers. Many of them cannot stand to be receivers. Because to receive means to be vulnerable, or needy, or indebted. It is to accept less power in the exchange and often in the relationship.

But how beautiful it can be to humbly receive! The receiver is not ashamed to feel that he is beholden or needs to express thanks. The ability to ask for and accept help is a deeply human gesture, a recognition of the truth that no person can manage alone. The giver may appear to be self-sufficient, but we are all parts of an interconnected web, and to receive is to acknowledge this eternal truth about all of us. To receive with entitlement or ingratitude is ugly; to lose initiative or effort in the expectation of getting something is a betrayal of human spirit. But to watch someone receive with heartfelt thanks is a gorgeous thing to see.

The one who gives when there is need is to be blessed, of course. Vast charitable and societal institutions would collapse if not for the generosity of those who give time and money and passion. I have been fortunate to know many people in my own community who give with a remarkable purity of motive. The most effective among such givers are those who are not only givers. They know what it is to accept from others, to need others, to feel modestly thankful.

In some ways, as the old saying has it, it is better to give than to receive. In other ways, although we often forget this, the one who can ask and can accept with both pride and genuine gratitude is to be admired. Blessings to the open-hearted givers and the humble-hearted receivers, one and all.

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