Givers are Happy People
On Shavuot, we read about Ruth, a woman who loses her husband and her comfortable life — and chooses to follow her mother-in-law to a foreign country and an unknown destiny. Although its premise is tragic, the story of Ruth is filled with kindness — her own to her mother-in-law, her mother-in-law’s to her, and her future husband’s to each of them. It is also a story of generosity — where the community supports its poor by leaving excess food in the fields. Ultimately, it is a story where kindness leads to greatness and where the impoverished become the forebears of kings — revealing the transformative powers of chesed and tzedaka, loving-kindness and generous giving.
In our conversation with JWRP Trip Leader Nili Couzens, she shares how an incredible act of loving-kindness changed her life, as well as her advice for strengthening our giving muscles.
Why are chesed and tzedaka Jewish values?
Tzedaka comes from the Hebrew word, “tzedek,” which means justice. In Judaism, we believe that we each need to give our fair share of charity because that is how we take care of one another in our society. We even have specific guidelines about our charitable giving. While tzedaka is our baseline obligation, the Jewish value of chesed — loving-kindness — encourages us to go above and beyond and to find ways to be kind to those around us.
How does doing acts of kindness impact the giver?
Givers are happy people. When they see a need and respond to it, they bring joy to others and they feel good, too.
One morning, I went to the supermarket and I was in a terrible mood. I don’t remember why, but I do remember that there was a man in front of me at the cashier and he was taking a very long time to check out. I tried to distract myself by reading a magazine, but I felt myself becoming more aggravated by the minute.
Just then, I heard the cashier say that his credit card was declined. He decided to put some of his items back and I realized that he wasn’t putting back expensive items, but staples — eggs, milk, and bread. I looked at the screen and noticed that he owed $7.42. “I’ll pay it,” I told the cashier. At the time, 90% of my motivation was to accelerate the whole process. But both the man and the cashier looked at me like I was an angel and said, “G-d bless you” multiple times. By the time I left the store, I was in a great mood.
Doing acts of kindness is like taking aspirin when you have a headache. You pop the aspirin and your headache goes away. Now I know that when I’m in a bad mood, I just need to do a favor for someone else and I’ll feel better.
How can we work on building our “giving muscle”?
Use it. Do little things for people that spread kindness. Hold the door open for people. Smile at people. Let someone at the grocery store check out before you. Meir Kaye is a YouTube personality whose mission it is to make the world a better place through simple acts that make people smile. For example, he has handed out sandwiches and single roses to people on the street. Doing acts of kindness for others doesn’t have to be expensive. It can be fun and fulfilling.
Can you share a time when you experienced an act of loving-kindness?
When I was a child, my siblings and I attended a Jewish day school. But one year, my mother couldn’t afford to send us there. So, she reluctantly called the school and said, “I’m so sorry, but even with the generous scholarship you’re offering, I won’t be able to send my kid to school.” The secretary said, “Thank you” and took our names off of the list. The school year started and we enrolled in a local public school. That week, one of the school rabbis called my mother and asked why we were not at school. She explained that she couldn’t afford tuition. He said, “Send your kids to our school tomorrow and if necessary, every rabbi will be outside to greet them.” I returned to the Jewish day school, and later in the year, my mother paid back the school.
I am so grateful to the school because they gave me a Jewish education unconditionally — not knowing that Jewish education would become my life’s passion. Years later, I was an honoree at the school’s annual dinner and I shared this story — which inspired someone to donate $20,000 to the scholarship fund. Recipients become givers and giving leads to more giving.
How can we make loving-kindness and generous giving part of our children’s lives?
First, be a role model. Make sure that your kids know that you give — and show them how happy it makes you feel. Second, involve your children in doing acts of loving-kindness whenever possible and make these experiences fun. For example, pack food for needy families together and then go out for ice cream. Lastly, if you have a kid who doesn’t like to give, find an under-the-radar way to put her in a giving situation so that she can experience the pleasure of giving. For example, ask your child to hand out party favors at a birthday party or to serve the popcorn during your family’s movie night. When people thank her, she may feel good and want to give more.