The land of Israel has two main bodies of water: the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea. They are both fed by the Jordan River. Yet, they differ significantly.
The Sea of Galilee is full of life. It has greenery, fish, and living creatures. The Dead Sea, as its name implies, has no life. What's the difference?
The Dead Sea, as Jonathan Sacks has pointed out, receives water, but does not give it. The Sea of Galilee both receives and gives. In other words, the Dead Sea is a reservoir. It keeps its water for itself.
The Sea of Galilee is a spring. It gives its water to others. In that giving, it becomes alive.
This geographic feature has a lesson for each us. Giving enhances living. The more we give, the more we live. This truths operates on a psychological, sociological and economic level.
1. Giving makes us feel better:
As a rabbi amongst my most important duties is visiting people who are in the hospital or homebound. I sometimes resist doing so. I tell myself I have so much else to do, and that I really can't make them feel better. Yet, when I push myself to go and visit, I always feel better. Regardless of the condition of the patient, I know I did the right thing.
The same is true in giving. We can tell ourselves other people will give. We can tell ourselves we can't afford it. But when we give--of our funds and ourselves--we always feel better. Just try it.
2. Giving builds relationships:
At my congregation we have a human needs committee that distributes funds we raise. They diligently research charities and meet with those in need. Aside from the good work they do, the committee has helped generate deep and abiding friendships.
Working together on a common cause brings people closer to one another. Habitat for Humanity, for example, does not just build homes. It builds friendships.
3. Giving makes us wealthier:
This truth seems paradoxical. If we give money away, don't we become less wealthy?
Research proves just the opposite. Those who give--regardless of socio-economic background--end up making more money in the long-run that those who do not. Perhaps it reflects the relationships built and the kind of personality who gives. Regardless, giving helps us become our best selves.
The research proves the truth of a wonderful story about the great nineteenth century British Jew, Sir Moses Montefiore. He was a close friend of Queen Victoria and was the first Jew to attain high office in the City of London. He had come from a wealthy family, so he was able to retire at the age of forty and devote the rest of his life--he lived to be 101--to philanthropy. He built the first soup kitchens in Jerusalem and the famous windmill that overlooks the Old City of Jerusalem.
Near the end of his life, a reporter asked him, " 'Sir Moses, what are you worth?' He thought for a while and named a figure. 'But surely,' said his questioner, 'your wealth must be much more than that.' . . . Sir Moses replied, 'You didn't ask me how much I own. You asked me how much I'm worth. So I calculated how much I have given to charity thus far this year--because we are worth only what we are willing to share with others.'"
One of the greatest and most sophisticated perspectives on charity was given by another great Jew named Moses--Moses Maimonides. He created a ladder of charity that has withstood the test of time. Click here to get a copy of this ladder and several quotes on charity.