Monday, June 2, 2014

Are you a giver or a taker?

You are probably proud to admit that you a giver. And why not?

A giver is kind, thoughtful, and often putting your own needs aside to fulfill the needs of everyone else. Anyway, not many people would admit that they are takers; a self-centered, give-me-give-me, what's in it for me, type of person.

All too often, we measure how much we give-and-take on the "relationship scorecard." I called your Mom three times last week, what did you do for me this week? Why don't you ever eat in the restaurants I like? Why do we always do what you want? I invited your family over for meals every week last month. That's three gives for me, none for you. Resentment sets in, but the score-keeping continues.

About a year ago, two adorable skinny kittens were hanging around my backyard. As an animal-lover  (and one who gets upset when even a lizard looks hungry), I was faced with the big decision: to feed them or not to feed them? After contemplating my choices for a few days, (and after discussing it with my husband), we agreed that even though we knew these adorable little kittens would become adult cats and wouldn't be so cute anymore, I made a commitment to feed them. Months went by, and the kittens grew.

One day I noticed a protruding belly on one of the females and sure enough, a few weeks later they were a family of 9. Great, now what? I agreed to feed two cats, not nine. But, it was too late. I couldn't abandon them now. Especially with seven tiny helpless kittens. Every morning and every night, they appeared. I watched the mother nurse them, they played in my yard until they were old enough to venture out on their own. Every morning and every night, they came for their smelly cans of beige chicken strips in gravy and crunchy fish-shaped food.

I knew they were feral cats; incapable of making social connections with humans. But foolishly I thought that someday they might show me a little love and gratitude in return. Nope! Nothing, bubkes! Yet still, every week I go to the store and buy cans and bags of cat food. And every morning and every night, I am involved in the most unfulfilling relationship of all... giving and receiving nothing in return. (Hmm, sounds a bit like parenting).

I asked myself, why am I doing this? I'm not sure. We (me, my husband, and the cat-maven) even went through one week of trapping, neutering and returning them back to my yard. Not fun, at all!

So why am I doing this? This family of wild cats fascinates me.

They don't give me anything, but they give to each other. I watch them interact. They are always together. After they eat, they wash each other before they clean themselves. They sit in a circle around the plate and share the food. They playfully roll around each other and never fight. They seem so united and happy while I feel so sad about their homelessness.

Why do I spend money, run to the store, go out in the rain, and clean up a messy yard?

Because it reminds me every day to give- knowing that I will receive nothing in return. 

It reminds me to give a dollar to the homeless man in a wheelchair at the traffic light. It reminds me to give in and not fight because my relationships are more important than the little arguments in them. It reminds me to give people the benefit of the doubt when my mind is filled with cynical thoughts. It reminds me to give favorable judgment instead of criticizing what others say, wear, and do. It reminds me to give love and compassion in response to the negativity of others.

That's what true giving is, isn't it?

When do you give and expect nothing in return? Probably often. Especially if you're a parent, a care-taker, a charitable donor, or just a good friend.

Shavuos is coming. It's officially time to put our giving aside. We have been struggling. We wandered the desert and counted the Omer. We've been suffering and received nothing in return.

And now, finally... it's time to receive. The greatest gift of all- the Torah.

But wait! This gift comes with instructions: a list of how we should live our lives. Really? What kind of gift is that? We want gifts that don't require anything of us. But what good is the gift of a rare orchid without instructions on how to care for it? How long would it live? How will you sit at your new Ikea desk if you don't have the instructions telling you which screw to put into which hole? And how would I listen to music, check Facebook, and accept credit card payments on my iPad if I didn't go to the Apple store to learn how to use it?

The instructions are the gift. They are the backbone of healthy, intelligent functioning.

It's what we do as parents; constantly giving instructions. It's what we do in our relationships (sometimes silently and other times out loud). Even work comes with a job description. We want to know what we have to do and how we should do it.

Everything is so much easier with instructions. The chaos disappears and so do the questions. All the answers are there.

Sometimes when it looks like you are receiving nothing, that's the time when you receive the most.

Torah ~ the gift that keeps on giving.

Chag Sameach!

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