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  Chapter 27 from
Buy Green Bananas
Observation on self, family, life

By Rabbi Berel Wein 


Other Available Chapters
10  13  16 


Learn How To Take

Even though we are cautioned in the Book of Proverbs that “He who despises receiving gifts will live,” there are times in life when one must be prepared to receive gifts, honors, and recognition in a graceful and understanding fashion. Those times are mainly when the refusal to do so will cause damage to the sensitivities, well-being and noble ideals of others or of the community at large. One should never refuse a gift from a child, especially one’s own child. And that gift, no matter what it is or is not, should never be demeaned or treated lightly in the presence of the child who is the giver. A person who refuses to accept gifts graciously, even from pious motives, is often seen by others as being mean-spirited and self-centered. I know many people who refused to accept communal honors out of a true spirit of humility and selflessness. Nevertheless, such reticent spirit is often detrimental to the very institutions and causes that one is most interested in promoting and aiding.

The law of unintended consequences applies, almost without any exception, to those who have never learned how to take and accept graciously, and in a timely fashion. Their very nobility of motives in refusing to take becomes a source of hurt and divisiveness that easily eclipses whatever moral good their not taking was intended to illustrate.

The above idea is I believe valid for all people and families, but I am convinced that it is vitally necessary and pertinent for all those who hold public positions. I have seen a number of very promising young rabbis who suffered major problems in their communities simply because they were never taught how to accept honors, gifts and appreciation graciously and modestly. There is a fierce streak of independence within all of us. We all want to be able to make it on our own – to be self-sufficient and not dependent upon the generosity of others. And this is a correct and admirable attitude in life. But there are many times when this attitude, positive as it may be, should not be allowed to reign supreme. We must all realize that success in dealing with other human beings and with our communities at large sometimes entails being a taker. The general community applauds givers. It rarely tolerates those who are never takers and who, by this obvious statement of their own independence, thereby unwittingly declare their contempt for the community at large.

Naturally, the habit of taking must be curbed and controlled. It is no honor to be a beggar or a glory seeker. Knowing when to say no to gifts and honors is also an essential talent for successful living. Just as giving requires discernment and judicious behavior so does taking. Acceptance of anything from dubious characters or questionable organizations is foolish and unjustified behavior. Successful living demands balance and moderation in behavior and attitudes. Therefore never taking seems to be as bad a habit as always taking. Since King Solomon was aware that taking is easier than giving, he correctly warned us of the pitfalls of unrestricted taking. One should always be reticent about taking. But one should never be dogmatic about never taking. There is a time and place in all of our lives where and when we should exhibit the good grace of being a wise and noble taker.

 
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