Being a recipient of kindness

May 20th, 2020 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 9 comments

Friends of ours have blessed us with a huge mitzvah during a difficult health challenge.  How does one acknowledge something so abundant and beyond helpful?  We, at the moment, do not have the means to reciprocate.

Any direction would be greatly appreciated!

Kind regards,

Stacy

Dear Stacy,

Our best wishes are with you as you go through this health challenge. Your question, however, is one that faces most well-adjusted people at various times. We say well-adjusted because, unfortunately, there are those who choose unhappiness by cultivating an attitude that they are entitled to the gifts of the world, as represented by their fellow citizens, community and family. They are ungrateful “takers” and do not recognize that living successfully requires us to be givers as well as takers. Above all, we need to express gratitude frequently and regularly. Takers miss out by being unaware of these ideas.. 

That does not describe you. Circumstances right now put you on the receiving end and, while you appreciate the help, you are uncomfortable being in that situation. If we may, we’d like to correct your misuse of the word “mitzvah.” A mitzvah is the Hebrew word meaning one of God’s commandments. What your friends blessed you with is a CHeSeD—an act of loving-kindness (and one of the oft-misunderstood words we explore in our book, Buried Treasure). 

It can be very hard for those of us who prefer being on the giving end to be recipients instead. Sometimes, we are comfortable doing so when we know that the tables will be turned such as when we gratefully accept a homemade meal when we have a newborn in the house. You certainly don’t hope for the tables to be turned in your case. In fact, there may never be a way for you to reciprocate on the level of the chesed that you received.

This calls for a new experience of soul-expansion. You cannot respond in kind, however, you can learn the skill of gracious acceptance. It actually is a skill that is probably in your repertoire already as you recognize all the blessings that God showers on you and that you have no way to “repay.”

Certainly, a heartfelt thank-you letter and remembering these friends in your prayers is something you can do. The harder thing is to allow them to give to you without letting the relationship be strained by awkwardness. Abandon the idea of reciprocity. These friends are using the gifts God granted them in a good and proper way and you are the vehicle through which they are doing so. In effect, they are doing a mitzva (fulfilling God’s commandment to care for His other children) by acting towards you with chesed (loving-kindness).

Sometimes, we simply must accept being in the position of accepting help. Often, we cannot “pay back” the help we received and we cannot pay it forward in exactly the same way. We can only use our own gifts and skills to give in whatever way we can at any given time. That may be as simple as offering a smile to the tired nurse taking care of us at the end of a long shift (actually, not a simple thing at all when we are worried and in pain). When, please God, you have come through this medical challenge, you will be able to expand your own giving to others with added sensitivity and empathy. You will not be keeping score expecting those you benefit to reciprocate; you will be grateful that you can be on the giving end.

Wishing you complete healing,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

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9 comments

Lyna says:

Something to consider—if one refuses to receive, the other is blocked from giving, and two blessings are lost.

Susan Lapin says:

Absolutely, Lyna.

Lori says:

I’m currently going through treatment for cancer and our family has been blessed by others in so many ways that it would be impossible to pay such kindnesses back. This has been difficult for me to accept, and I recognized such difficulty as a sign of pride in my own life. I am learning to accept such help with a gracious “thank you” and have given up on the idea of “paying it back” but have hopes to “pay it forward” somehow in someway, someday. It IS a wonderful example of recognizing my utter helplessness in my ability to pay God back for His saving grace.

Susan Lapin says:

Praying for your good health, Lori, and may you have ample opportunities to help others.

Valerie says:

I agree so strongly. When I give a gift of any kind, it gives me joy because it makes the receiver happy. I do not want reciprocation. I don’t consider it a gift if I want something in return. Therefore, when I receive blessings from others, I appreciate them as gifts and do not feel guilty about not immediately (or ever, possibly) doing something in return. If I feel joy in giving, I cannot deprive others of that joy.

Susan Lapin says:

I hope Stacy sees your comment, Valerie, and takes it to heart.

Jim Lynch says:

If you are alive you received a gift from your heavenly FATHER, if you breathe it is also a gift from HIM, before you eat you praise and thank HIM, that is all he asks for in return for all our blessings. Now apply that same thankfulness to the gift giver, it will make them feel blessed as well.

Maria Birdlady says:

Thank you for clarifying between mitzvah and chesed. Did they not receive a natan ? Natan, or gift , spelling is same reading front to back means the gift goes both directions so the giving is in both directions? BTY, I treasure your book, Buried Treasure, i.e., tithing also means rich and I’m richer for knowing this . Thank you for writing it. Ha Shem bless you.

Susan Lapin says:

Maria, A ‘matanah’ is a gift. It comes, as you say from the root N-T-N which means “give.” You are right that is is palindromic showing that we receive when we give and also are givers when we allow ourselves to receive properly. Glad to know that you enjoy Buried Treasure. We worked hard on that book.

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