This week some of us celebrated Purim, a holiday that reaffirms the power of the Light to overcome the forces of darkness or evil in the world. And our greatest tool for channeling that Light? The act of giving! In fact, that power is so potent during this time, we can literally intercept those negative forces and block their ability to manifest. But how do we know that our giving will make a real difference? And how do we decide where and how to give of ourselves to best elevate ourselves and the world?
Way back in the 12th century, Rabbi Maimonides outlined the “levels of Tzedakah,” also known as The Ladder of Giving. His ideas are as relevant today as they were back then (talk about being ahead of your time!). Keep in mind, though, that giving isn’t just about money. We can give of our time. Our energy. Even our spirit. Sometimes the greatest gifts can’t be seen… such as a smile, a pat on the back, or a word of encouragement in a time of need. So how might one define what determines a higher versus a lower type of giving?
As you might imagine, the lowest form of giving is when we give grudgingly or unenthusiastically. Maybe our spouse asks us to take out the trash, and we do it while grumbling all the way out to the alley. Maybe we feel that we “owe” someone a visit, yet we’d rather be anywhere else–and it shows. In times like these, our gesture comes off like a bad actor reciting lines without feeling. The action is there, but the consciousness is missing. Similarly, when we give less than we can or when we want to make sure that we’re recognized and given credit for our gift–Look, everyone! Aren’t I generous?–we may be doing something good for someone, but our ego is the main character in the play.
Because the point of giving shouldn’t be about us at all. In fact, how our offering might make someone else feel was a key point in Maimonides’ teachings. He considered a mutually anonymous donation close to the top of the ladder. The reason? Because a blind exchange removes both the feeling of shame from the recipient and the element of ego from the giver. No one’s name is in lights, yet someone’s life has been intentionally made better and brighter. Yet the pinnacle of giving is when we give to someone in a way that allows them to help themselves… and we do it happily and without being asked. Thus the old adage: “Give someone a fish, and they will eat for a day. Teach them to fish, and they will eat for a lifetime”!
We all move up and down this ladder, sometimes within a single day. Yet we can always elevate our giving by adjusting the consciousness we bring to it. If we give a person on the street $5, yet we do so with a suspicious or judgmental mind (are they just going to buy wine with this?), we are hovering in the lower realms of the Ladder of Giving. Yet if we give the same person the only dollar we have in our wallet, but we give it with a smile, a full heart, and a sincere wish for this person’s well-being–wine or no wine–then we have raised our gift to a much higher realm.
Thankfully, there are so many ways to give! I’ve thought about this lately as Abigail and I have continued sharing our book, The Gift of Being Different, in an ongoing tour. What has made this experience so meaningful is the way this book’s release has become a “teach a person to fish” endeavor. Because Abigail was brave enough to write about her learning struggles, she created an opportunity to empower others to turn their own challenges into success stories. We’ve heard from many readers who felt seen and understood, in some cases, for the first time ever. The potential impact of this simple children’s book will probably outlive us all!
The lesson? We each have the ability to help someone (or perhaps even many someones) in transformative and lasting ways!
As Kabbalist Karen Berg said, “You must share of yourself in a way that permanently improves the quality of life in this world.” How you choose to give is up to you. Make it a small gesture, or make it a grand one! Share your time, your energy, your money, and your unique gifts.
The Hebrew word for love, ahav, stems from the word hav, which means to give. The more we cultivate a consciousness of love, connection, and true caring for the well-being of others, the more we realize that giving to another is no different from giving to myself. So when we intentionally channel Light to someone else through our act of giving, we open up a circuit to receive more Light and blessings ourselves!
This is how we become more like the Creator… and how the Light wins (again!). Because it has always been–and it will always be–the thought and intention we bring to each moment that matters most of all.
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