There’s a line of Rabbi Jonathan Sacks pertaining to this week’s Torah reading this week ( Exodus 24) which leaps off the page. The line is: God lives in the heart of those who give. I can’t think of a better way of expressing the Jewish notion of giving. The capacity to give is one of the greatest gifts we have.
It is what makes us human, it is what makes us better people, it is what infuses the world with hope and energy.
This week’s Torah reading is about the generous donations that the Israelites made towards the building of the portable sanctuary soon after they left Egypt. It is called Teruma which is usually translated as contribution or donation but can be also be read as something you lift up. As Sacks points out you lift it up (your gift) and then it lifts you up.
What makes the gifts so extraordinary is that they were given by a recently impoverished and enslaved people. You would think people in this situation would want to hold on to any precious gold, silver or valuable items they had just obtained (they were given gifts before they left Egypt). They would have been justifiably cautious and fearful of losing what they had just gained.
Instead, they immediately and intuitively grasped that giving is more rewarding than receiving. What follows in the Torah readings for the next few weeks is an astonishing outpouring of generosity.
It prompts one contemporary commentator, Aviva Zornberg, to refer to it as a promiscuous giving! They give freely, they give generously, they give with heart and soul. In their giving they encounter the Great Giver, God. One of the great Hasidic masters, the Kotzker, when asked where God is, replied God is wherever we human beings allow Him in.
God rests in the heart of the giver. Even if you have difficulty in believing in God, you can surely sense a spiritual or divine spirit in the hearts of the generous givers you encounter. Psychologist Eric Fromm writes that love is primarily expressed in giving and not receiving. He suggests that giving is the highest expression of potency. In the the act of giving I experience myself as overflowing, alive and joyous.
Every day across our community and at Jewish Care, I am privileged to meet the givers. Jewish Care is filled with people who choose to give more than they receive. Our staff, our elders and clients together with our supporters surely embody the concept of giving!