Growing up I wanted to be a stewardess, an actress and a lawyer. At no point did I ever think, say or strive to be a fundraiser. But since none of the eight women who founded the Jewish Women’s Renaissance Project (JWRP) wanted to raise the money, I said I would try until we hired a professional. That was 10 years ago, and although it has not been easy, what I have learned through fundraising changed my life forever, and how I have grown far outweighs any of the challenges.
One of the biggest lessons is gratitude. The greatest philanthropists I ask to invest in our movement are the ones who after I thank them for giving say, “No, thank you. Thank you for giving me the opportunity.”
In the Torah, G-d has certain “red lines.” We could commit idolatry, sexual immorality, break this commandment and that, and yet He will be patient and give us a chance to do teshuvah and clear up our mistakes— to realize that we were blowing it and then to right our wrong. But it seems that being “k’fuey tov,”, a denier of the good, an ingrate, is the one line we cannot cross.
We see this “in the beginning.” G-d tells Adam and Eve that they can eat from any of the trees in Gan Eden, the Garden of Eden, except for one. We are all familiar with the story. The serpent convinces Eve to persuade Adam to eat from that particular tree. Then G-d confronts Adam and says, “Who gave you that fruit?” (as if He doesn’t know). Adam responds, “The woman You gave me.”
Who does Adam blame? Unfortunately, I have heard too often that this was when men started blaming their wives. But that’s not true. Adam does not blame Chava. “The woman You gave me,” he says. Adam blames G-d. And then G-d tells him, you’re outta here, and kicks Adam and Eve out of the Garden of Eden to toil, suffer… and work their way back to paradise. And we’ve been out ever since.
Why does Adam receive such a harsh punishment? Does G-d lose His temper? Does He have low self-esteem? Or is His pride hurt? Nonsense — this is G-d Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth.
Creation is an act of giving and kindness. G-d does not need us. He has no needs. All of creation is for us, for our pleasure. Just like our kids mistakenly think they are doing their homework and sharing because we need them to do so, we think we are doing mitzvot, commandments, for G-d. Don’t do Him any favors. Mitzvot are not for Him. They are for us.
When G-d creates Adam, He sees that it is not good for him to be alone. Man has no one to give to, no one to help him realize his potential. So, G-d takes the female aspect out of this first androgynous being and creates the first woman, Eve. She is a gift to Adam, an eizer k’negdo, a “helpmate opposite,” someone he can give to, and someone who will help him become the man he needs to be — both for his own good and for his pleasure.
When Adam acts ungrateful and blames G-d for giving him this gift, he spits on creation itself. G-d has given him everything for his pleasure, and he acts like an ingrate.
G-d does not need our gratitude, we do. Grateful people are happy people.
When the philanthropist corrects me and says, “No, thank you,” they understand that G-d does not need us to give tzedakah, He could have created a world with no needs. Instead we have a world where there is lacking, which then gives us the incredible opportunity to give.
G-d does not need us to give, we need to. Givers are happy people.
The Talmud says that the person who asks for tzedakah gets even more reward than the person who gives—because the person who asks is not begging or shnorring, they are giving someone an opportunity to be a giver, for their pleasure, fulfilling the purpose of creation itself. If we really understood this, we should all want to be fundraisers when we grow up.
Lori Palatnik is the Founding Director of the JWRP (Jewish Women’s Renaissance Project.) She is a world-renowned Jewish educator, speaker, writer, and media personality, and is the author of four books, Friday Night and Beyond, Gossip, Remember My Soul, and Turn Your Husband Into Your Soul Mate. She is the host of a popular video blog and is a frequent guest on television and radio programs. Lori is the mother of five children and one grandchild, who was recently born in Jerusalem. Jewish Women International named Lori as one of “Ten Women to Watch” and Hadassah named Lori, “One of the Great American Jewish Women of our Time."