Chanukah is no longer just about lighting the Menorah, spinning the dreidel, and scarfing down piping hot latkes or sufganiyot. Chanukah has become a holiday of parties and gift-giving. Holiday displays are up in retail and online stores. People are being primed to give in order to show they care.
If you are a female, raised Orthodox like me, you have learned that the world rests on 3 things: Torah, Divine service (prayer), and acts of kindness. As a girl, parts of the Torah were not so accessible to me. Divine service was also kind of held back by my female-ness. But those acts of kindness were drilled, re-drilled, and enforced. “It is always better to give than to receive” is something I heard almost daily. This belief has stuck to me like those fruit stickers on a plum; impossible to remove.
If someone gives me a gift, I immediately think of what I have to give them back. My brain goes into competitive mode. I cannot just give them back something of equal value; it has to be better, preferably much better.
Being the “giver” gets the attention of G-d, the community, the rabbis, and the family. But being a giver means someone (anyone) has to be the receiver. So, are we dissing the receivers? What’s the deal here?
I have started food banks, diaper banks, community gardens, and many other non-profit agencies to be the top GOAT (Giver of All Time). Because giving is a bit like playing G-d, right? Giving makes me feel powerful. Giving is a form of action. It’s like spiritual weightlifting, with an added bonus of altruistic endorphin release.
We are taught that everything comes from G-d, but sometimes we are the messengers that give to others. We are taught to say thank you for all the gifts and kindnesses we receive from G-d in our daily prayers. But no one really teaches us how to receive (gracefully!) from other people.
What can we receive from others? Words, gifts, and kindnesses.
If someone gives me a compliment, I immediately counter with a negative. “Oh, this dress? This old thing? I got it on sale. It actually has a hole in it.”
“Oh, this dish? It actually needs a lot more salt. I put in way too much pepper.”
Full disclosure: I tried on eight different outfits with three changes of shoes before I walked out of the house in “this old thing”.
And I slaved over that “dish”. I watched several Instastories on it, Googled the recipe on four different blogs, went to Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, and the regular supermarket for the exotic, hard-to-source ingredients, made at least six pans dirty while making it, and placed the herb garnish with my good tweezers so it looked like the picture.
If someone gives me a gift, I immediately think of what I have to give them back. My brain goes into competitive mode. I cannot just give them back something of equal value; it has to be better, preferably much better. A guest in my home once gave me two lovely fringed hand towels. These are the kind that are hung in a powder room and are never actually used. When I went to their home, I not only gave towels, but I also purchased a 24-pack of washcloths from Costco, rolled each one into a tight cigar, wrapped it in a raffia ribbon, and then placed them all in a raffia-colored basket.
If someone does me a kindness, I have (I say this with shame) pushed them away. I was in the supermarket, foolishly without a cart, using a basket to get milk, a dozen eggs, and a loaf of bread. I saw there was a sale on the flavored water I love and my favorite brand of toilet paper. I grabbed them both. I could not carry all of it, so this kind woman asked if she could help. I actually refused her. I did not have enough arms for the goods I was carrying. So I smashed the eggs and flattened the bread…all so that I would not be beholden to this kind woman.
Can I blame my mother for not teaching me how to receive? Are my schools at fault for not doing full lesson plans on the fundamentals of receiving?
Receiving means being the vulnerable one. Receiving means pushing down thoughts of your own worthiness and the sense of being judged as “poor”, “needy”, or “pitiful”. Receiving means trusting that the motives of the other person are good and truly kind toward you.
If G-d wants us to give, He also wants us to receive. Like giving, this is a skill that can be learned. The giving part of a woman is located between her mouth and her diaphragm. Although all mammals nurse their young, human women are the only ones that have their babies nurse right by their mother’s heart (in the giving zone!). Our arms and hands are in the giving zone, doing millions of amazing things: cooking, writing, hugging, holding, and sewing, just to name a few. This is the area that gets depleted when we, as women, keep giving without replacing the account deficit.
Each woman has her own way in which she can receive. Get to know yourself and what literally fills the space for you.
Here are some tips to help you receive better:
#1 Remember that you are worthy of both giving and receiving.
#2 Realize that you can choose who to give to. You don’t have to give to everyone. See how different it is to give with love and without expectations. To quote the writer Anne Lamot, “Expectations are resentments under construction.”
#3 Create the space for receiving. Recognize how many times a day you actually do receive! It could be as small as a smile or as large as someone letting you go ahead first!
As for myself, I am still in “receiving preschool”, taking my baby steps. Someone gave me a compliment today on my outfit. I had to quiet that buzzing noise in my head that said, ‘Downplay your effort in getting dressed! Don’t antagonize the Evil Eye!’, and simply say instead, “Thank you.”