Middah of the Month-Practicing Non Dual Judaism-Nedivut (Generosity)
by Nancy Aron
- Alan Moranis, from his Jewish Pathways Course Series, #13 Nedivut
And God spoke to Moses, saying: “Speak to the Children of Israel, that they should take a gift for Me. From every person whose heart moves him, you should take My gift… And let them build Me a Sanctuary, and I will dwell in their midst.” (Exodus 25:1-2, 8)
The soul-trait of generosity is named nedivut. A generous person is a nadiv. Mussar clearly distinguishes this type of generosity from another kind, called tzedakah, which means obligated giving, such as tithing.
Nedivut-type generosity comes not from obligation nor rational thought nor guilt, but out of an irresistible feeling that stirs deep within. Without so much as a thought, your heart compels your hand to dig into your pocket. It’s a movement of the soul that erupts with the recognition of your direct connection to another soul. I give to you because your need is my need, your suffering is my suffering. I feel one with you and respond as freely as if for myself. The overall goal of Mussar is to help us really live as the holy souls we are. To move toward holiness, one must yearn for it. One must be propelled by a spiritual willingness – nedivut ha-lev – a generosity of the heart…
…Although we are naturally inclined to give, we can act on that inclination only when our heart is open. When our hearts are closed or walled off, we are suffering from a spiritual ailment that the Mussar teachers call timtum ha-lev, literally a plugged-up heart. Instead of being open, flowing, and generous, we are sluggish, constipated and unwilling at our core. Why does that happen to us? If the heart is generous by nature, how does its flow get to be so obstructed that we live without being generous? And what can we do about it? Sometimes we end up with timtum ha-lev, a plugged-up heart, because we willingly blockade our own hearts. We build barriers to separate ourselves from others…
…Closed-heartedness isn’t all done by us, however; sometimes it is also done to us. Life experience can play its part in shutting down the heart. The heart wants to be open, but sometimes it is just not capable in the face of the brutal battering it has been handed. In this case, we can empathize with peoples’ need to close off their hearts. And yet if it is we who have been the victim, and we accept that situation, we do a different kind of violence to the heart. When your heart is closed, you are among the first who suffer from that closure. There may be good reasons why it feels too risky to open up, but by tolerating that condition, we accept an imposed timtum ha-lev. With a walled-off heart, our lives will be so much less than they could be.
Most of us know from experience that it feels good to give. Why is that, considering that generosity doesn’t seem to offer the donor any direct benefits? The answer is that when
we give, we receive one of the greatest satisfactions that a human being can know, which is to feel connected to others. Our hearts are programmed to connect and generosity satisfies that need. And the giver gets another satisfaction as well. Having a plugged-up heart is an ailment. Every act of generosity dissolves the blockage and makes the heart flow again. We all feel so much better when we live with open hearts.
…More common than being abused in harsh and scarring ways is the tendency to sacrifice the ways of the heart for the needs of the ego. The ego sees the riches of the world as a fixed pie, and works to get the largest slice, believing that somebody will end up with only crumbs. All of this works against the heart’s inclination to spontaneous generosity.
…Rabbi Simcha Zissel Ziv, the founder of the Kelm school of Mussar, explained how bearing the burden of the other is a profound spiritual practice. He brings as his example the story of Moses, who began his spiritual journey cocooned in Pharaoh’s palace, but ultimately became the greatest of prophets by responding to the suffering he saw around him. “He saw their suffering,” the Torah tells us (Exodus 2:11), and this had a formative impact on the development of his soul. With the idea of “bearing the burden of the other,” Rabbi Simcha Zissel was articulating a spiritual method pointed to by his own teacher, Rabbi Israel Salanter.
In one of his most memorable sayings, Rabbi Salanter comments: “The spiritual is higher than the physical. But the physical needs of another are an obligation of my spiritual life.” In order that I can follow my spiritual path, I have to pay attention to the physical needs of others. Generosity would be one of the most accessible ways to do that.
- Quotes on Generosity
“With gentleness, overcome anger. With generosity, overcome meanness. With truth. overcome delusion.” —The Buddha, Verse 223, The Dhammapada
“Give what you have. To someone, it may be better than you dare to think.” —Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
“Gentleness, self-sacrifice, and generosity are the excusive possession of no one race or religion.” —Mahatma Gandhi
“You often say, ‘I would give, but only to the deserving.’ The trees in your orchard say not so, nor the flocks in your pasture. They give that they may live, for to withhold is to perish.” —Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet
“Generosity is the most natural outward expression of an inner attitude of compassion and loving-kindness.” —The Dalai Lama XIV