Cell Phone Reach-OutWhen I was between cell phones, I was unreachable for a while via cell, text and all forms of digital communication. But my withdrawal from the cell phone world came to an end. My service provider delivered my new cell phone and I was connected again. I have to tell you. I very much enjoyed my digital isolation.
I discovered something interesting about myself. I am rather delighted when I go incommunicado and can’t be reached. Still, I have to admit. As much as I enjoyed my isolation, I felt stymied by my inability to reach out. There is something deeply stimulating about the opportunity to reach out and touch others.
Charity Reach-OutThe Torah teaches us to reach out in every way shape and form. If we grow fruits, we reach out to G-d with the first ripened fruit. If we grow grain, we tithe to the Levites and the poor and reach out to the Priests with offerings. When we have done all the reach out that we can afford to do, we are expected to reach out to the Jerusalem community and spend 10% of our earnings there.
Why do we give so much away? By getting a cell phone I gave away my time and privacy. By giving to charity we give away our hard earned money. Why do we do it? Of course you can say that we do it to help those in need. We aren’t selfish; we are social creatures and the plight of others touches us. But our own plight touches us even more so why do we make do with less, to help others?
Many books were written on the fairness of G-d’s social system. He gave more to some and less to others, so the two can reach out and help each other. The money was never ours to keep, it was given to us to share with others. Our extra income is very much like a platter of candy served to the table. It isn’t meant for the person before whom it was placed. We are meant to take a little and share the rest.
But I want to talk about something else today because in the end, fair and ethical as our system is, it still leaves us feeling like we made a sacrifice; we gave away what we could have kept. There is a deeper aspect to charity that is completely gratifying and that is what I like to call the' kindness reach-out'.
Kindness Reach-OutThere is a curious aspect to kindness that is hardly ever discussed. People that are inherently kind, feel a need to give. They feel good when they give and constricted when no one has needs. They want to give and there is no one to give to. Of course there are those who respond whenever there are needs, but are delighted to keep their money when there are no needs. But that is not true for the inherently kind.
Of the two, who do you think is more kind, the one who responds only when there is a need, or the one who goes out and seeks out people with needs?
You would think that the latter are the exceptionally selfless ones. Similar to Abraham the Patriarch, who was frustrated on a very hot day because he wanted to share hospitality, but there were no guests because of the heat. It sounds selfless and generous. But the truth is different.
Selflessness is born of another’s need. This is born of their own need. They are frustrated by their inability to satisfy their own desire. They aren’t seeking poor people to help the poor. They are seeking poor people to satisfy their desire to give. They like to look in the mirror and see givers staring back at them. That isn’t generous. On some level, that is selfish.
A perverse example would be someone wishing poverty on another so that he can come in and help them. That is an extreme example. Not everyone is that extreme, but sometimes accentuating the extreme helps us understand the middle. This middle isn’t entirely selfless. They are quite selfish.
Reach-Out and TouchYet, here is the funny thing. Even though such people are desperate to give, they don’t derive satisfaction unless they know that the poor really appreciated their gift. It is not enough for them to know that they gave. They want to hear that it worked out perfectly; that what they gave was really helpful. If they learn that their gifts weren’t particularly helpful or meaningful, they are saddened.
On the surface you would wonder. If their desire isn’t rooted in the needs of the poor, but in themselves, why do they care whether the poor were touched or not? They know the poor needed dinner and they know they provided dinner. They know the poor needed a house and they provided the house. Why do they care if the poor aren’t grateful? They aren’t chasing honor; their particular interest is generosity; the opportunity to help. And appreciated or not, they helped.
Let’s try another analogy. A famous lecturer comes to town and for a hefty fee, delivers a spellbinding lecture. The lecturer knows that the lecture was superb. He reached each benchmark and covered each note. It couldn’t be better. Yet, when the lecturer is told by an anonymous audience member that the lecture touched him, the lecturer is immensely gratified. A lecturer takes more pleasure from touching a single audience member than from the knowledge that the lecture was superb. Why?
The Root ConnectionBecause my connection with others is deeper than my desire to help. When I first start out, I am motivated by selfish interests. The desire to help others. The desire to deliver a good lecture. But when the product is delivered I realize that I am not delivering things, I am touching people. And people, even strangers, are inherently connected with me. Essentially, all humans are one.
When I contemplate my interests, I reach only the aspects of myself that are reflected in my interests. When I find my connection with you, I access a part of me that is greater than me. I find that place where you and I are one, where the two of us are greater than the sum of our respective selves.
Touching that part of me, making contact with the basic building blocks of my existence, the root of my soul, the very DNA of my humanity, is thrilling. It cannot be reached when I am engaged only with myself. It can only be accessed when I reach out and touch you. My initial motives might be selfish, but in the end, I discover that true beauty of goodness, true gratification and satisfaction cannot be had in isolation. It can only be found in conjoined oneness.
This is why the Torah encourages us to give. It is not only because others have needs. It is also because we have needs. We have a need to discover our truest selves, something we can only discover by bonding with others. That is also why I got my cell phone. If we can narrow it down to its basics, this thrill is the true lubricant of all social interaction.
May we reach out and discover our true selves in the coming year, through comity, kindness and love.