Giving and Getting
Chukat-Balak (Numbers 19:1-25:9 )
We learn in this week's Torah portion not to be overly particular and possessive about our things. When the Jewish people asked for permission to pass through their territories on their way to the land of Israel, promising to do no damage and offering to pay, the Edomites and Amorites angrily refused and threatened to attack them if they tried. While we certainly have the right to share or not to as we please, when we choose to share, we connect with others and make the world a better and kinder place.
In our story, a kid learns that giving does not mean getting taken advantage of.
Warren looked nervously at each item as he unpacked it from his duffle bag. He was sure he had labeled everything before packing it, but thought it would be a good idea to double check. He started to place one of his several economy sized boxes of Kleenex on the shelf at the foot of his bed.
Hey, how did I miss that one? he asked himself. Grabbing the indelible marker he had brought just for the occasion, he wrote 'PRIVATE-DO NOT USE!' in big bright letters.
Much better. He had heard about how everybody used each other's things at camp, and wanted to make sure all his stuff was protected.
"Hey, how're you doing?" came a cheerful voice from behind him. Warren, who had been making his bed, turned around. "My name is Jonnie. Nice to meet you," smiled a friendly looking boy who plopped down his heavy duffle bag. He was sweating, and Warren hoped none of it was going to drip on his nice clean sheets.
"You know, I just got here, and I'm a little worn out from dragging my luggage across the camp," the kid went on.
Why is he telling me this? Warren wondered.
"And I happened to notice you had a couple of pitchers of cold water in the bunk's refrigerator..."
Oh, there it is, Warren thought to himself, he wants to mooch some of my water.
"Well, you probably also noticed that it said 'private,' didn't you?" Warren snapped.
The boy's face fell. "Yeah, that's why I'm asking. But I just thought since you had so much, maybe I could have a little and I'll replace it..."
Warren shifted nervously. "I'm sorry, but no. I'm really going to need it later, but there's plenty of good water from the faucet over there." He said, trying to put on a friendly smile.
Jonnie shuffled off. Warren noticed him going up to someone else and shake his hand, and then he saw the other kid take out a bottle of Pepsi from the fridge and pour Jonnie a cup. Seems like a sucker is born every minute - but not me, Warren thought, proud of himself that he hadn't let himself get taken advantage of the way the other kid had.
The summer got going, and all the kids in the bunk got to know each other. Soon they were sharing their snacks, books, and CD's. Everyone, that is, except for Warren. The guys quickly learned that Warren didn't share, and when he said 'Do not touch,' he meant it.
Warren liked camp, more or less. He liked the scheduled sports program, especially the horseback riding. But the one thing that bothered him was that he just didn't feel like one of the gang. While Jonnie and the others seemed to have become best friends and would always hang out together during breaks, Warren always seemed to be by himself.
One evening Warren walked into the bunk after dinner and saw Jonnie and some of the other guys sitting around the table munching on some treats, laughing and having a good time together. It looked like fun, and he edged over, hoping to join them. Suddenly they all went silent, almost like they were waiting for him to pass by.
He felt his face go red, and quickly turned and went over to his locker, pulled out a package of his choco-chunk cookies, marked 'Private!' of course, and sadly sat down by himself with a book in the corner of the room.
"Mind if I join you?"
Warren looked up, surprised to see Jonnie. "Sure," Warren shrugged.
Jonnie pulled over a chair and sat down. "I couldn't help noticing your feelings were hurt just now," he said softly.
"Well wouldn't you be hurt if nobody liked you?" came the angry reply.
Jonnie shook his head. "It's not true. The guys don't dislike you, it's just that..." he paused, "it's just you kind of keep yourself apart."
"What do you mean by that?"
"Well, you ... you don't like to share your stuff, or even let anyone touch it, you know."
Warren was confused. "Why should I let everybody take advantage of me and use up and mess up my stuff? Anyway, what does that have to do with anything?" he asked.
"Well, nobody says you have to share. But sharing is just part of being friends. It kind of pulls everybody together, you know what I mean? Take just now, for instance. We're all having a 'snack party.' Everybody's passing around stuff from each of the care packages they got from home. Nobody ends up giving away that much, and it's a lot of fun."
The guys began calling Jonnie to come back. He gave Warren a smile. "You're really welcome to join us, and you don't have to even contribute anything - unless you want to, that is."
With that, he went back to the laughing group.
Warren, still sitting alone, munched another cookie. The thought of other people using his things went against his grain, but had to admit Jonnie had made a point he hadn't thought of. And he had to admit it was pretty boring to be eating the same cookies by himself all of the time too.
The snack party was winding down. Not because the guys' appetites were, but because the snacks were. Suddenly a big package of yummy looking choco-chunk cookies landed on the table. Everybody stared. As usual, it had a label on it, but with one difference - this time the label said "PLEASE HAVE SOME!"
The guys looked up at the smiling Warren and smiled back as they dug in. From that day on the kid who never shared became one of the guys, and began to learn how to enjoy sharing his things with the people around him.
Q. How did Warren feel about letting people use his stuff at first?
A. He felt like what was his was his and there was no reason to share it.
Q. How did he feel about it in the end?
A. That it's good to share and it's a way of being a friend.
Q. What did Warren discover that summer?
A. He had always been very possessive of his things and didn't think anything was wrong with that. But he realized by not sharing his things he was creating a barrier between himself and those around him that was going to make him feel isolated and unhappy, until he learned to share.
Q. Do you think two people who never share with each other can be truly friends?
A. Friendship is all about giving and sharing. Two people who never do that with each other may be acquaintances, even pleasant ones, but they are not friends.
Ages 10 and Up
Q. What would you say is the ideal way to relate to our possessions, and those of others?
A. Our sages teach that the level to strive for is on the one hand to freely share of our things, and at the same time refrain from taking from others. This way we make ourselves into givers and not takers, which is the goal of spiritual development.
Q. What outlook can we adopt regarding our possessions that will help us to be more willing to share?
A. A basic principle in Jewish thought is that ultimately everything in the world, without exception, belongs to God. If something is in our possession, it is because God has chosen to 'lend' it to us for the time being. When someone asks us to share of our things, as long as the request is reasonable, it is a sign that God would like us to 'lend' it to someone else, at least for a while. We should trust His judgment and comply.