Shabbat Shalom with a Heart Healthy Dose of Torah -B’haalot’cha
As we approach this week’s Torah portion, Moses brings elder representatives from the tribes together, in order to share the responsibilities of leadership necessary for serving the people. In the midst of the gathering, the Torah teaches, “And I will emanate of the spirit which is upon you, and will bestow it upon them.” (Num 11:17) What was it that Moses gave? Moses gave them of his spirit. Moses was a giver.
In most community settings, the willingness to give is the measure of a citizen’s value. Winston Churchill said, “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.” You can work any job and fill time, but we find value in life by the connections that we create and nurture. We give of ourselves in ways that help shape the world in which we want to live. Certainly, most religions teach it is in giving that one receives (attributed to St Francis of Assisi). Of course, it is not a quid pro quo, but most ethical models would agree that when we can answer human needs, we become more whole in the process.
The spirit of giving manifests in many ways. Mostly it comes in the form of things or energies. Our tradition teaches that there are limits to what you can give, lest you become impoverished and in need. The rabbis say 25% is the most one can give without putting one’s-self at risk. In the realm of things, one can easily measure this standard. So, to help fill someone else’s cup, one must diminish one’s own. We measure the cost/value parameters and apportion or resources accordingly.
Not all giving is of stuff, though. Midrash Rabbah teaches, “Was Moses’ prophecy perhaps diminished? No. This is comparable to a burning candle from which many candles are lit, yet its own light is not diminished. So, too, Moses lost nothing that was his.” Yet, we know that when teachers invest themselves in students, there is a cost. Often it is time and sometimes frustration. Depending on the task, a teacher’s own work can get compromised in efforts to help another succeed. Still, though, elevating another blesses the teacher, as well. It is relatively impossible to quantify one’s energy/emotional investment in another’s well-being or a cause’s mission. Too often, we don’t realize how deeply involved we got, until we are too deeply involved.
So, we accept our obligation to serve, even as we need to preserve our strength in order to keep serving. This cannot be a zero-sum game, and perhaps it is with good reason that it remains unquantifiable. I wrestle mightily in this arena. There is so much need, and, at the same time, so many incredible efforts formulating to address the need. I feel pulled to serve and help in so many directions. I recognize, however, that it is in the work I am blessed to do that I find my value and purpose. Pablo Picasso taught us, “The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away.”
Over the course of my life, incredible teachers have shared their sacred passions with me. I was not always a willing participant at the beginning, but were it not for the steadfast and diligent hearts of these people, I could not do and be what I do or who I am. From my Track Coach in high school (Overton Curtis z’l) who first opened my eyes to my obligations and potential to the many people who have dug, pushed, pulled, tugged, and cajoled me into some the important work in which I have been involved, people have given of themselves to teach me. I have a lot to pay back and pay forward. Their imprint on me is indelible. I have to pay it forward.
Perhaps prophetically, Denzel Washington said, “At the end it’s not about what you have or even what you’ve accomplished. It’s about who you’ve lifted up, who you’ve made better. It’s about what you’ve given back.” In that spirit, I am not sure that it is so easy to tell when one has done too much. What I do know in the work of paying these blessings forward, we help elevate those with whom we work, validate the faith put in us, celebrate our own growth, and demonstrate to others how powerful one’s investment can be for changing the world. Yes, there is a cost to serving. When we see how our efforts change lives, we can justify going the extra mile. Moses had to spend a lot of energy in teaching and growing these leaders. As the Midrash teaches, while Moses gave so deeply from himself, given the fruit it bore, “Moses lost nothing that was his.” Let’s reach out to each other.