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JCF Blog

Our Greatest Gift

Posted by: Jewish Community Foundation of Greater Hartford on 10/9/2017

As I sat during the high holidays contemplating my imperfections, I was reminded that our tradition’s great patriarchs and matriarchs were hardly perfect. They often didn’t follow rules well (Adam and Eve and what about that Golden Calf incident?), sometimes lost their patience (Moses and the ever complaining Israelites), were occasionally accused of megalomania or deceit or fought amongst themselves (Joseph and his brothers, Cain and Abel, Jacob and Esau) and never seemed to model ideal behavior as spouses or parents or siblings.

For some the thought that our patriarchs and matriarchs were flawed might be disturbing. Aren’t the leaders at the heart of our religion, in the center of our most sacred texts, supposed to be icons of virtue, kindness, wisdom and morals?  Well, yes and no. The truth is that our patriarchs and matriarchs were human beings, just like us. Perhaps that is the point. 

In what might be one of its most masterful teachings, the Torah is telling us that even the greatest of our leaders were human, but that they were able to rise above their inevitable human flaws. It is a message of hope for all of us who fall short of perfection. Our own human weakness and frailty does not disqualify us or prohibit us from living a life of meaning, moral richness and beauty. Even our missteps are opportunities to prove the beauty of humanity. “In Judaism,” says Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, “the moral life is about learning and growing, knowing that even the greatest have failings and even the worst have saving graces.”

Perhaps this message gives us all purpose: we can all rise above our imperfections and make ourselves better. But I believe this message also tells us that we must help others rise, too. We are called to help repair the damaged human beings in our midst – the sick, the hungry, the homeless, the lonely, the fearful, the depressed, the mournful – and in so doing we can help repair our world.

Yet the greatest irony (and the greatest gift) is that in lifting up others, we lift ourselves as well. This is the true wonder and beauty of Tzedakah – repair others and you will repair yourself. Perhaps this is why surveys show that people who give of their time and resources are happier. A small investment in others creates meaningful return for oneself.

Is giving of ourselves (of our time and resources) and helping to ease the burdens of others our purpose for being in this world? I don’t know. It’s a question above my pay grade. But isn’t it a beautiful idea – that the greatest gift we have been given is our own imperfection? That by being given the task of helping repair our world, we are also given the tools to repair ourselves?

If you are looking to be happier in this New Year, think about giving more of yourself to others. Give comfort to a person in need. Give your time, money or intellectual resources to a nonprofit. Remarkably, you may find that giving assistance to another is a doorway to repairing not only the world, but yourself. As Rabbi Sacks says, “The good we do lives after us.It is the greatest thing that does.”

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