Some Give and Take

While discussing the verses which warn judges (and all of us) against taking a bribe (Exodus 23:8 and Deuteronomy 16:19), ancient Jewish wisdom relates a tale of two men who were standing under a hot sun. One invites the other to share the shielding cover of his umbrella. As they begin to chat, the umbrella’s owner asks, “What are you doing here?” His beneficiary replies, “I am a litigant.” To which the first man responds, “And I am a judge. I won’t be able to preside over your case.”

I can understand the judge being concerned at being influenced in his judgment –or it appearing to others that he is – if a litigant did him a favor. But in this case, it was the judge who helped the other. While receiving something might suggest accepting a bribe, what is wrong with a judge giving a gift or favor?

Ancient Jewish wisdom explains that when one person transfers something material to another, paradoxically, the giver tends to gain more affection for the recipient than the other way around.

Without even being aware of his subconscious thoughts, a judge who has given something to a litigant is likely to find that he is more receptive to the arguments made by that party. In fact he is likely to become rather fond of the fellow and to consider him an all-around fine chap.

In his autobiography, Benjamin Franklin provides an example of this, describing how disturbed he was by the antagonism he felt radiating towards him from an older member of the Pennsylvania House. He attempted to improve his standing in the other’s eyes:

“…I did not aim at gaining his favor by paying any servile respect to him but took this other method.”

Franklin contrived a need to borrow a book owned by his foe. The Member loaned it to him, and he returned it a week later with a letter of appreciation. Having given an article of his to Franklin, the older man soon felt an affinity for him. Franklin continues:

“…he ever after manifested a readiness to serve me on all occasions, so that we became great friends until his death.”

In all probability, the book owner never knew what accounted for his change of heart. From the Bible’s warning to judges we know the truth. Once we’ve given a gift or done a favor for someone, we experience a subconscious tendency to like that person.

The very structure of the Hebrew word for love shows this. The word, AHav, is made up of two shorter words. The A, connotes first person singular in Hebrew grammar, or I. The second part, HaV, means “give”. So love equals “I give”.

Love = אהב


Did you know that the first time a word or concept is mentioned in the Bible carries great importance? Let’s seek the first mention of love. It is not Adam and Eve, or Abraham and Sarah, or even Abraham and God. The first mention of love relates to Abraham’s love for his son, Isaac. (Genesis 22:2*). There is a real-life lesson for all parents here.

Parents give their children time, energy, money, and certainly for mothers, their very bodies. Children take. Yet who loves whom more? With an infant, the exchange is 100% to 0%. One of the ways to make this ratio less lopsided as your children grow up is to allow your children to give to you as soon as they are able. Does it take twice as long for your daughter to bring you a glass of water than if you would get it yourself? And you are less likely to spill or break the cup? It doesn’t matter. If you want her to love you, let her serve you. Can you unload the dishwasher faster and better than your 7-year-old son? Nevertheless, let him do it. You are building his affection for you as much as his sense of responsibility.

The implications of this message reach out way beyond children. Practicing this principle can affect your love life as well as your work relationships. If you are feeling alienated from someone in your life; reach out and give to them. Like Franklin’s foe, you may find your feelings changing.

*In our recommended Bible:

P. 56, 4th line from the bottom, 3rd word from the right – אהבת. The ת at the end of the word (remember, Hebrew reads from right to left) is a suffix meaning ‘you.’ The complete word means, ‘you loved.’

A version of this Thought Tool was first published in September 2008.

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