If you have ever been solicited by a charity (or cousin out of work), you may have been told outright—or made to feel—that you should "give until it hurts". In this week's Torah portion, Terumah, we see how giving is not about "hurting" but about "healing".
In the story line, the Jewish People left Egypt, stood at Mount Sinai, received the Ten Commandments, and then, in one of the worst fits in our history, thinking that Moses was dead, we built a golden calf to be his replacement.
After those responsible were duly punished, G-d decided that what we needed is a good building project to boost morale. He commanded us to build the Mishkan, which is the portable tabernacle that we carried with us in the desert that housed the tablets of the Ten Commandments.
In order to build this portable tabernacle, a lot of building materials and precious metals were needed. Imagine how challenging this must have been for a slave population suddenly made free, suddenly going from rags-to-riches, now being asked to part with their newly acquired possessions.
Unlike any other financial levy that had ever occurred in the ancient world, however, G-d told Moses to collect these offerings from "every heart-inspired person", leaving it up to the dictates of each person’s heart not only how much to donate, but whether to donate at all.
In a way, discretionary giving can be harder. For people accustomed to having no choices, being told to give a certain amount is probably not too difficult. But what personal experience could the Jewish People draw on to make this type of decision?
Perhaps the deeper lesson that G-d was teaching the Jewish People, was that in becoming givers, they would not only become free, but happier as well.
Living From Abundance
In freedom, there isn’t always a script or a set formula. It's the sum of your choices that makes you who you are. And unless you have the right to say "No", what is the real value of your "Yes"? A defining moment for the Jewish People—the exercise of giving freely (or not) allowed them to transition from being a slave to a free-willed human, since the nature of a slave is not to be a giver, or a decision-maker.
The Jewish People in the desert responded to this challenge and gave and gave until Moses had to tell them to stop. Their generosity did not necessarily stem from the fact that they suddenly had something to give. Have you ever known someone who experienced depression or lived in poverty as a child, and then, despite how wealthy the person became later in life, his or her worldview never changed?
Perhaps—and this is just a suggestion—the feeling of closeness and connection that the Jewish People had with G-d at that time, allowed them to tap into their G-dly essence—an inspired heart, which means living from the place of abundance. As Wayne Dyer points out, "Abundance is not something we acquire. It is something we tap into." And that creates joy, because giving makes us happier.
The Joy of Giving
According to the Social Capital Community Benchmark Survey and many other studies, people who give money to charity are vastly more likely than non-givers to say that they are "very happy" about their lives. It's not always about giving money either, as a University of Michigan study showed that volunteers are much happier as well. A Harvard Business School study concluded that giving not only increases happiness, but happier people in turn give more, and that these two relationships may operate in circular fashion.
It should come as no surprise that doing good correlates to feeling good. So doesn't it make sense to be on the lookout for ways to increase your own happiness, as you are increasing happiness in the world?
Think about what enslaves you. What makes it hard for you to be generous or to let go? What would it take for you to shift from a feeling of lack to a feeling of abundance? What would happen if you went through life asking yourself—what does this person, this situation, my community, or the world need from me—whether it's giving up resources, time, a need to control, a need to be right, a need to judge, or a need to look good? Could that increase your sense of freedom and joy?
Don't worry, I would never suggest that you become a doormat or give indiscriminately. Giving from the heart doesn't mean that we leave our brains out of the equation. I am suggesting, however, that we take a cue from Terumah and understand, as Eckhart Tolle pointed out, "Sometimes letting things go is an act of far greater power than defending or hanging on."
So as you go through your week, notice when you are giving—whether it's writing a check, shoveling snow for an elderly neighbor, giving up a parking spot, throwing a quarter in a stranger's expired meter, giving someone a shoulder to cry on, honoring a request from a loved one, giving some space and breathing room to a partner, holding back a zinger, or saying the right word at the right time. And pay attention to the many gifts and blessings that you receive as well. And in so doing, may you feel more inspired to live from a "heart-inspired place".
Hanna is a reformed divorce attorney who is a writer, lecturer and strengths-based positive psychology coach, specializing in relationships and holistic wellness. Her approach is "Using what you do best to make you better." Hanna may be reached at MakeTheBestofYou.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.
More advice on how to be happy from YourTango: