middot generosity besorah matter of the heart

matter of the heart

Written by  rabbi benjamin ehrenfeld

art-giftOur society has a somewhat dysfunctional approach towards generosity at this time of year. By and large the expectation is that if you receive a “holiday” gift from another, you’re obligated to reciprocate.

In fact, this has gone so far that I actually heard someone say, “ughh, she gave me a gift. Now that means I have to get her one…blah!” I was rather unsettled by the sentiment. First I was bothered by the seeming selfishness of the person speaking, but then it bothered me even more that she was probably right! There is a low-grade guilt that accompanies almost every unrequited “holiday” gift. It’s pretty disturbing.


The idea of gift giving ought to have its root in a spirit of generosity born from gratitude, not a sense of capitalistic obligation. Imagine the following statement flying in late December 2011:

“But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” Matthew 6:3‒4

First of all, the focus of giving is on those who need. Second, the person receiving may not even necessarily know who is giving. Thirdly, the giving is not an obligation of societal propriety but an act of kindness towards another person in need. Finally, the reward for giving is from God.

I certainly feel that generosity to our loved ones is good, and so is reciprocal generosity. Nevertheless, it saddens me that gift-giving has become an act of obligation. Generosity comes from thankfulness and the sincere desire to express love to another.  I hope we can all transcend the pressures of consumerist America and find places in our hearts to give from a spirit of generosity.

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