Giving or Taking
An interesting thing happens as siblings choose which items to take from the home of a deceased parent; they are simultaneously giving and taking. When we say to another, “Here, take this Kiddush cup,” we are giving to each other, but there is an assumed taking in the process; by assuming those rights, we are taking ownership of my mother’s possessions. It’s fascinating to observe that all of us are more focused on the sharing, the giving, than the taking. I found it difficult to take anything other than pictures. One sister insisted that I take something, which I did, and, although I look at the item and feel connected to my parents, I still feel as if I took something away. Taking is harder for us than is giving.
Which leads me to the famous question on this week’s portion: Why does the verse instruct Moshe to, “Take a portion for Me,” rather than “give” to Me? There are many wonderful and enriching answers, but as I experienced the freedom to take to give even while having difficulty taking for myself, I realized that there is a skill to taking.
The verse is telling us that it is in the taking from my possessions that the item becomes holy. It does not become holy when given, but when taken. A coin separated for charity is holy when set aside for charity, even before it is given to a person or organization. When I choose to take time to pray, the time becomes holy before I begin praying.
The Chassidic Masters loved to teach that when the verse tells us, “When you lend money to My people, to the poor person who is with you (Exodus 22:24),” that the proper way to read the verse is, “When you lend money to the poor, the money remains with you forever,” it becomes yours only when you take it to lend to the needy.
This is similar to the story in the Talmud of Munbaz, “Our Rabbis taught: It is related of King Munbaz that he dissipated all his own hoards and the hoards of his fathers in years of scarcity (by giving it all away to the poor). His brothers and his father’s household came in a deputation to him and said to him, ‘Your father saved money and added to the treasures of his fathers, and you are squandering them.’ He replied: ‘My fathers stored up below and I am storing above, as it says, ‘Truth springs out of the earth and righteousness looks down from heaven.’ My fathers stored in a place which can be tampered with, but I have stored in a place which cannot be tampered with, as it says, ‘Righteousness and judgment are the foundation of His throne.’ My fathers stored something which produces no fruits, but I have stored something which does produce fruits (Bava Batra 11a).”
The power is not in the giving but by taking it and setting out to use it for good. This is the idea of making a blessing before we eat; it is our taking the food, and by reciting a blessing we are honoring the taking of the food to make a blessing as holy, even before we eat.
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