SHABBAT SERMON PARSHAT MIKETZ 2003 Rabbi Weisblum December 27, 2003
Today is the last day of Chanukah and in the Jewish world, it is the most enlightened day, so to speak, as Jews everywhere not only illuminated their entire Menorah by lighting their eighth Chanukah candle, but their Shabbos candles as well. By facing our Menorahs towards the outside world, we proudly advertise our Jewish identity and symbolically share our light with passers by.
Here in Maryland, there is a unique home that put an interesting spin on Chanukah decoration. Did you visit or hear about the Chanukah House in Baltimore? In front of a stately mansion on Park Heights Ave. is a beautifully adorned Chanukah house, featuring a pop-art caricature of Harry Potter wearing a yarmulke and lighting a menorah, a depiction of Spiderman fighting as a Macabee, and three-dimensional Teddy Bears baking challah.
These homeowners created an imaginative concept, which delighted the public. It was their educational gift to the Jewish community for the holiday season.
I still remember last Tuesday when we had our own successful Chanukah celebration in Knesset Israel Synagogue. In addition to the scrumptious latkes and other delectable treats, as well as the uplifting choir, we had a raffle and we gave out eight gift baskets and other fun items. We thank all those who contributed and helped organize this lovely event. And to all of you out there who could not attend, you were truly missed.
In this week’s Torah portion, Mikeitz, we read a story about Joseph and his brothers exchanging gifts. But what is the Torah teaching us about the value of giving gifts, now that we are in the midst of the gift season for people throughout the world, Jews and non-Jews alike?
Several weeks ago, we read a Torah portion where Jacob gave his son, Joseph, a coat of many colors, a much greater gift than he had given any of his other 11 sons. Years later, in a similar fashion, Joseph gave his brother, Benjamin, a greater gift than he gave to any of his other brothers, causing similar dissent among Jacob’s sons.
There is a lesson to be learned. Everyone likes to receive gifts, but we need to ask ourselves whether or not we are doing it right. In his book, "Living Life," Rabbi Dr. Abraham Twerski of Pittsburgh University discusses the complex behaviors that exist in connection with giving gifts. Twerski, a well-known author and psychiatrist, describes the impact upon both the giver and the receiver. Twerski writes that the giver often has a wonderful feeling about his or her actions, while King Solomon points out in his book, "Kohelet," (Ecclesiastes), that the giver enjoys the process more than the receiver.
The question is, what are we trying to accomplish?
When we give a gift, we are trying to show others that we care about them. We try to show our children, grandchildren and friends, etc. that we are thinking about them. Yet, do we actually achieve this goal?
In recent Torah portions, Jacob demonstrates that this is something in which we should be circumspect. People sometimes interpret gift giving as showing favoritism or perhaps as an act of bribery. Meanwhile, people who want to give a gift as a Mitzvah, even do it after their life in this world has ended.
Jeannette and Harry Weinberg, of blessed memory, built institutions all over the Baltimore area. Their donations to the community represent gifts the Weinbergers gave to others after their own lives had ended.
Some people, anonymously, make a donation to a worthy charity or a needy family. In this way, they achieve a very high form of Tzedakah, since they give without the opportunity for public acknowledgement and notoriety.
The main idea is to think twice and do it right. Sometimes we can accomplish the same things with our words and actions as we can with physically giving a gift. Through our deeds, such as visiting the sick, opening our homes to guests and saying kind words to others, we also give an important gift – through our actions – and we should never underestimate their importance.
The Torah teaches us the value of gift giving, and our goal and purpose should be aimed more towards making others happy and perhaps less toward making ourselves feel good. Generally, we should give equally, without favoritism, and if you receive a gift, express your gratitude and take the giver’s motive to be pure.
Through the story of Jacob and Joseph, we should take the Torah’s G-d given lesson to heart and be very careful when we give gifts; it can be a wonderful Mitzvah, but we should be mindful how we do it.
May G-d bless us with the gift of health and a happy life. Miriam and I wish you a sweet and meaningful Chanukah.