My parents always were givers. Taking was an art they never learned, nor ever wanted to learn. Giving gifts to my parents was considered high treason in my home. Give them something, and they would shoot you disapproving looks of “how could you!” We learned early on there was little we could sneak past them to give them.
It began one Friday afternoon. The doorbell rang, not unusual for an Erev Shabbos in our home. What was unusual was the florist’s delivery, an extravagant bouquet of exquisite blooms. On the card was my parents’ address for delivery, but no clue as to who sent the flowers. My mother got busy on the phone. She called the florist. They apologized but explained they could not identify the sender. They informed my mother some man had come in and paid cash, not leaving any vestige of his identify, just giving my parents’ address for delivery. Next for my mother’s sleuthing was a call to all of us children. Not a one knew about the flowers, though each one said, “what a great idea. Wish I had done that – sent you flowers anonymously so you couldn’t refuse them.”
The next Friday came. The doorbell rang. The scenario repeated itself. And then the next Friday it happened again. And the next and the next and the next. Every Erev Shabbos and Erev Yom Tov, a new bouquet of flowers was offered up to my parents.
All my parents’ children speculated as to who had so blighted my parent’s carefully constructed life of no taking. Each Friday there was the doorbell. My father frowned, shook his head and lamented, “oy vey, it’s the flowers.” My mother took the bouquet from the delivery man. She loves flowers and admired it begrudgingly for the moment. Then she threw up her hands and said, “They’re making my life miserable. Who’s spending this money?” The cry went up from both my parents, “Oy the flowers.”
Guests came and went, complimenting my parents on the flowers. They wondered at the look of consternation such topic elicited. “Don’t ask about those flowers,” said one parent with a shake of the head, “they give us such grief.” And the two of them, my father and mother, chorused together, “Oy, the flowers.”
Long after the redolent smell of sweet blossoms faded from my parent’s dining room, the refrain “oy the flowers” remained folklore in our home. My parents allow more to get beyond their threshold, taking graciously at times when someone wants to give.
Recently I had been given a few things, here and there. Coffee from one kid. Some tzatchkes from another. I almost did the same, “oy the gift” line. And then I realized that at times taking is a form of giving. Everyone wants to give to others, and allowing them to give it to you even if the gift does not match your needs, even if you don’t want and hate gifts (especially since the sages say “those who hate gifts shall live long”), is sometimes the biggest gift you can give to another.
After eating a non-bread/cake-form food, we bless Hashem with a prayer called Boray Nefashos. In it, we thank G-d that He created “nefashos rabos v’echsronan – many souls with their needs/deficiencies”. That line begs the question, why are we thanking G-d for the fact that we are flawed and needy? Because the give and take is what builds human relationships. The fact that I need you and you need me at times is what gets us to communicate and bond.
All times, it feels great to be the giver. But, at times, we have to learn to be okay with being a taker, too. For taking, at times, accepting graciously, is also a gift we are giving.
After all, isn’t that what G-d does, allows us to give Him things, prayers, gifts that He doesn’t need. He accepts them to allow us to be givers, for He is the ultimate Giver, able to receive as a gift to us.