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December 08, 2012
Around this time each year, I, like just about everyone else in the United States, am buying gifts. Gift-giving can be a wonderful aspect of this season, but it can also be a source of stress and upset. Jews want to celebrate – but not commercialize – Hanukah, and Christians, no doubt, feel the same way about Christmas.
When you think back to your childhood, how many holiday gifts do you actually remember? The answer is probably: very few. What we remember, instead, are the people and rituals: watching Uncle Mortie come through the front door with packages and good cheer, tracking snow into the house; baking cookies or frying up latkes with Grandma; or standing at the front window, singing songs and blessings with the family.
When we do recall a stand-out gift, it isn’t really because of the material object. We enjoyed the Easy-Bake oven or Hot Wheels set, but that’s not what made an impression. The gift was beloved because it told us that we were beloved. We felt understood, valued, and cared for.
I remember with great fondness a large stuffed pink llama that I got on the eighth night of Hanukah when I was eight. I loved that gift because it signaled to me that I was known. I remember shouting with glee to my mother, “How did you know I wanted this, when I didn’t even know I wanted this?!” I kept that llama for years.
Gift-giving that is focused on things is ultimately an empty experience. Gift-giving that is focused on the relationship between the giver and receiver – and therefore the meaning of the gift within that relationship – provides meaning as well as fun. As givers, we try to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes; we think about what they want and who they are. This is not just good for the relationship and the recipient; it is good for the soul of the one who gives.
Recently, I added an article at RabbiDebra.com entitled Is the Gift-Giving Season Spoiling Your Kids - Or Your Joy?. It offers tips and techniques for handling gifts in ways that are pleasing to parents and kids –while promoting good values.
Last month, for my birthday, my wonderful husband (and webmaster), Craig, encouraged our children to write and recite poems for me. The recordings of their efforts were my gift. I am so delighted and proud that I am posting the youtube links here for subscribers to the e-newsletter.
A traditional High Holiday greeting is also a propos for the season and occasion of gift-giving. “Sheyemalu kol mishalot libchem letovah. May all the yearnings of your heart be fulfilled, for the sake of what is good.” That doesn’t mean anything so trivial as, “may you get that catalogue item you’ve had your eye on.” It means: may you get what you truly and deeply want. May you receive love, acceptance, and understanding, and may you know the joy of giving those gifts to others, as well.
A NOTE FROM THE REBBETZIN
Many people have told me that the CDs I edited of teachings by my wife, Debra Orenstein, and by Reb Zalman Schacther-Shalomi “make a great gift.” But they aren’t just speaking about a nice item to give for a birthday, Hanukah, Christmas, or “just because.”
When people tell me that the CDs have been a gift in their life, it’s because they really feel changed for the better by them. Many people listen to the CDs over and over again, allowing the messages of these two great teachers to seep into (and under) their consciousness. I like to think the CDs are engaging and entertaining. But they are more than that. They are, truly, a gift.
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