Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

2 Av 5763 - July 31, 2003 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Home and Family

Misgivings and Mistakes
by Rabbi Mendel Weinbach

One bright morning --

Miss Take met Miss Giving at the local grocery store where both of them went to buy their daily supply of bread and milk.

"I'm in such a hurry this morning," said Miss Take. "Can I take your place in line at the checkout counter?"

"Well, I'm in a hurry, too, but I will gladly let you go ahead of me," replied Miss Giving.

"Are you sure you are not making a mistake," asked Miss Take, "in giving up your place when you are in a hurry?"

"I assure you I have no misgivings," replied Miss Giving, "because it is always better to give than to take."

This imaginary dialogue reflects the division in human society between the givers and the takers. In his classic treatise on chessed, R' Eliyohu Dessler zt'l elaborates on this division and cites a Midrash which illustrates the difference between those who think in terms of giving and those whose thoughts are dedicated only to taking.

Alexander of Macedonia once visited the king of some remote land to study its system of justice. Two litigants came before the king. One of them had purchased a rundown field from the other and had discovered a buried treasure. The buyer insisted that he had bought only the land so that the treasure belonged to the seller. The seller, however, argued that he had sold the field and everything in it, so that the treasure rightfully belonged to the buyer.

The king asked the two if they had children and when he learned that one had a son and the other a daughter, he ordered the two to arrange a marriage between their children and to give them the treasure. Noticing his visitor's surprise at this ruling, the king asked Alexander what he would have ruled in such a case.

"We would have executed both and appropriated the treasure for the throne," came the pragmatic reply.

This is the difference, concludes R' Dessler, between the king of givers and the king of takers.

A modern version of the giver approach is related in "Oleinu Leshabeiach" by R' Yitzchok Zilberstein shlita, rabbi of the Ramat Elchonon community in Bnei Brak.

Two Jews were in the final stage of a business deal conducted in the lobby of a hotel. To conclude the deal, the prospective buyer had placed a large wad of dollar bills on the table, to be handed over as soon as an agreement was signed. Just then, there came an announcement on the P.A. system that the hotel must be evacuated immediately due to the discovery of an object suspected of being a terrorist bomb. In his haste to run for his life, this fellow left the money on the table but when he returned, it was gone and all the attempts of the police to find the thief were of no avail.

A day later, another Jew who had heard of the incident visited the lobby of that hotel and noticed a large flower pot standing in a slightly tilted position. When he walked over to investigate, he saw a dollar bill sticking out and when he came even closer, he discovered that this was the place where the thief had concealed the stolen money.

After tracking down the victim of the theft and informing him of the good news, he was surprised to hear that the latter had already despaired of recovering the money. Therefore, he insisted, it was the property of the finder. The finder stubbornly insisted that the money belonged to its original owner but he hit on an idea of how to break this bizarre impasse.

"Do you have a son?" he asked. "Yes," said the other, "and he's waiting for me in the car downstairs." "Well," continued the finder, "I have a daughter, so how about introducing them to one another?"

This brilliant solution eventually led to a successful shidduch, with the disputed money given to the young couple to establish their home.

Another perspective of the "give and take" is offered by R' Isaac Sher zt'l, the Rosh Hayeshiva of the Slobodka Yeshiva in Bnei Brak. The gemora discusses one who insists on someone accepting a gift for his son because he refuses to be a `dog' who only receives gifts but does not reciprocate. It, likewise, discusses one who insists that the other fellow make a gift to his son to reciprocate for gifts he had given to him in the past because he refuses to be a `king' who only gives and does not take.

Why is the dog characterized as being only a taker when we are aware that this animal not only eats his master's food but serves him as well as a protector? And why is the king portrayed only as a giver, when he takes from his subjects as well as leading them?

The answer, explains R' Sher, is the difference in the prime motivation of each. The dog is interested primarily in taking food from his master and serves him only in order to win his support. The righteous king, on the other hand, is interested in serving his subjects and takes taxes from them only so that he will be able to provide the necessary services.

The moral of all these stories is not to have any misgivings about giving and to avoid making mistakes about taking.


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