Thursday, August 4, 2011

Give What You Have

Parshat Devarim
4 Menahem Av, 5771
August 4th, 2011

When Rabbi Isaac Klein was an Army chaplain during World War II, he was brought through an orientation for religious leaders to Army life. His assumption was that succeeding as a chaplain would require sacrificing chunks of his personal religious life.

He assumed incorrectly. His superior, a Catholic priest, quoted a legal principle to the budding chaplains: Nemo dat quod non habet -- one cannot give what one does not have.* Invest, he meant, in your own religious practice so that you can give of your spirituality to your soldiers.

I believe this to be powerful Torah. Sometimes we assume that being of service to others -- helping them -- requires forgoing ourselves what we wish others to receive. It seems to us the selfless thing.

The opposite is true. In order to give of wisdom, we must learn to be wise. In order to give of community, we must first know its warmth. In order to give of passion, we must first find where we are passionate. In order to love, we must know what it is to be loved.

Self-deprivation is not selflessness. To provide others with what we have worked to achieve --to give what we have -- is the true Torah of love.

*Because I can’t resist, know that this same rule exists in halakha - Jewish law. See the Rambam “an object which is not in the possession of the seller - he cannot sell it.” Hilkhot Mekhirah 22. See also Talmud Bava Kama, 68b.

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