Thursday, 10 September 2009

Givers and Takers


The Jewish year is drawing to an end and we look forward to the good things to come in 5770. Personally I spent some time reflecting about the year that's been. As I considered my own growth in certain areas, and lack of it in others, I thought of the many types of people I met this year. Who were those that inspired me the most, and who were those who taught me the value of staying far away from? I considered the work we've been doing on our websites and blogs and the response we've had.

It's certainly been filled with variety. I thought about the "old school" and the new. How we're changing as people in the world. Technology is on the upswing (in spite of the fact that the world says there's no more money!) And people are buying it! And a lot more of it than they did when the economy was booming! They're also using it! And in abundance!

We've "met" anonymous donors to our projects who have given to our projects without batting an eyelid. It's been phenomenal and incredible! The kindness generated by people across the world donating to our causes – and this having thereafter been transferred over to others in need has been extraordinary! There seem to be those unique individuals in the world – who, when they see a project that's in need of assistance, come through – no matter what. There's never a question as to how to arrange the funds. Those wishing to give, notice the "Donate" button, click on it, enter their "magic" credit card details, and the money is transferred. From this point, this "virtual action" (or so it seems) is transferred into real money, into real physical items which benefit others.

Yet, we've also met people (in the real world!) who we've done work for who have out-run us with the abundance of excuses physically possible – as to why they simply could not manage to get payment to us. We've sometimes had to travel to far off places to receive money owed, though in today's times, checks work well (and can be sent to a postal box), depositing money into another's bank account is a cinch, and even doing a direct deposit using the online Internet banking facilities is as simple as 1,2,3 today – and the costs are even cheaper than the previous two! Aren't people different?!

Personally, having become a lot more connected with people using the powerful resources on the Internet – I've also got a good look into how others work. It's not an intentional thing of course… but when one connects to Facebook or the like and sees 10 new posts posted by one's friends, one does become a little curious at what's really going on.

What stands out most is that in spite of the apparent awful economy we're in, people have more and more time to spend twiddling their fingers on their keyboards as they make known their daily activities: "LOL" or "I'm going to eat lunch now", or perhaps "I'm now putting food in my mouth" or similar totally irrelevant things. There are those who've used every possible application, like starting their own virtual farms, where they simply MUST feed their virtual animals – even on Shabbat! And if that isn't enough, because they may be observing the Shabbat – they'll try their best to find friends across the globe who are not into Shabbat yet – or who are just out of – so that their "precious" animals can be fed.

There are the "serious gamblers" who will spend all night involved in virtual gambling – and one wonders if they're any better off than real big time gamblers…

Then there are those who are simply bored with life. They'll let everyone know all about it. Their day is going slow, nothing happening. They don't know what to do with their lives. And if you think these are the "regular folk", you may find it a wonder to know that these people are often the more "important" members of the community too! (Have time on your hands, and bored? We have a wealth of projects you could join up with and make a real difference with your "bored" time.)

We have to wonder where we've come from, and where we are going to. Is life all about sharing a 140 meaningless message that gets sent into the nowhere world of cyberspace with none of the 20 000 followers interested in it? Is it all about letting our friends become aware of every single act we do – no matter how gruesome or ugly it is (often accompanied with a picture just to indicate the truth)?

Is life perhaps about taking care of virtual pets all day long – or perhaps adopting the sheep that leave another friend's farm?! Is life about giving others all sorts of virtual gifts… ALL day long?!

Is life about always "being there" for others, when all this really means is a brief two-liner message that says "… has sent you a virtual hug" or better yet "…has sent you a virtual Lulav" (because you can't afford one this year). These of course are all very real things that happen, and one wonders if this is what life is all about.

Yet, to go back to the start of things… it amazed me to see those with large hands and small mouths (the normal physical size reflecting the truth of what is actually more important,) whose "huge stature" far outweighed those stuck with the problem of large mouths and tiny hands (a strange phenomenon to see in the physical reality of things.) Indeed, it was incredible to see the many people who I had contact with who simply gave of themselves in so many ways.

These were no "virtual givers". The money was real. The kindness? REAL! The thoughts? SINCERE! There were those who simply made it happen. Who gave over something – just like the "old school" of life taught. These real doers allowed us to share together with them the ability to give to others lacking the means to live truly honourable lives – as every Jew is entitled to by virtue of simply living in G-d's world. (Every Jewish male deserves to own his own Lulav at Sukkot time, which surely outweighs his need to constantly have to take care of another's virtual pet on his Friday – someone else's Shabbat in another part of the world!)

Today we've become "sophisticated". We live in a world where if one doesn't send a virtual greeting card, it's something to argue about! If one doesn't respond to a Twitter message, it's an insult… and if one doesn't comment on the recently posted image of a friend's newborn baby (just moments after birth), still unclothed, then it's a sure sign of a lack of interest in the "important things" in the life of another.

Who are we really? What is life really all about?! Are we ready to embrace the important values of the Torah… to being a person whose sincerity and care for another is real? Are we ready to embrace truth? To learn and understand what real goodness is?

It's out there – for I have surely seen it. Seeing the real action of those who have helped – it has brought me to seeing just how wonderful the world of goodness and giving really is. The "virtual" livers (no pun intended) lack the inner core soul of life itself. They're helping the world in a variety of ways… so long as there's no need for food, clothing, shelter, love or achievement.

Of course, we have this free choice to decide upon every day. G-d too, has three books open before Him where He chooses to place each of us. Are we looking for a virtual gift from G-d, or do we want something real too? Will it be good enough if G‑d blesses us with a virtual house, a virtual car, virtual food, virtual clothing and a virtual lievelihood? Perhaps the virtual millions of dollar wins that appear in our inboxes as Spam are going to do the trick of bringing this world to a state fitting to be filled with the Divine Presence?

Would it be good enough for us to experience the "Facebook" version of G-d or perhaps even the 140 character "Twitter version" – or do we ourselves want the real thing?

If it's the real thing we're after, we best be tuning in to the most real values of life ourselves. Real life is about doing real things. Not just moving one's lips constantly preaching how others should live their lives… Real things – real actions – are good, positive, helpful, caring and filled with love and sincerity. They come about through speaking about real things too – words of goodness and kindness…only, and in turn, ultimately those good and beautiful words that are spoken are rooted in one's own thoughts… the most translucent of everything… the closest to what any virtual reality could be – though far greater than it. These are the root thoughts that bring actual tangible physical goodness into this world – for each other.

This is where it truly does all begin. Our first step is to acknowledge the reality for what it is, to realise that this is a world of concreteness – of physicality – though only in clothing over the ethereal. If we're going to be wanting the "real thing" from G-d Himself over this next year, perhaps it's time for us to consider others – and those closest to ourselves in particular – in the same way – real, in need of real physical things.

As the Baal Shem Tov teaches, when it comes to the physical needs of another – don't criticise them, (mis-)judge them, or tell them how things should really be and what they need to do – to be alright, rather consider the other's physical needs as your spiritual needs. Just as you would be most particular about that tiny spot on your Etrog this year – ruining your perfect Etrog – be concerned of the tiniest spot on another's coat – all the more so when the entire coat is in need of replacement.

When it comes to the others spiritual needs however, consider those needs as you would your physical needs. Just as you would do everything you could to get yourself the best of everything physical wanting nothing but the most luxurious of everything – desire and give over as much as you can to another (without overwhelming them) so that their spiritual needs can be taken care of – that they can learn correctly, understand correctly, grow correctly, and ultimately become the best person they are able to become during their time in this world.

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