What does the Torah say about… Mitzvah Day?

With Rabbi Avrohom Zeidman.

There are two types of people in the world: takers and givers. A taker is one who is ultimately focused on himself. A giver is one who is focused on the other.  These two types of people view the world through two opposing paradigms. The taker sees a world of rights, approaching life thinking – ‘what’s in it for me?’

In contrast, the giver sees a world of obligations, thinking – ‘what’s my duty to others?’. The Human Rights Act of 1998 adopted into our domestic law the European Convention of Human Rights. It identified  16 fundamental rights. In contrast, our Torah contains no rights at all.

Out of 613 laws, not one deals with what a person ‘deserves’.  This is indicative of a very different approach. For example, The Human Right Act gives us a ‘right to life’ whereas the Torah imposes a prohibition: ‘Do not murder’. The underlying message of the Torah is this: look to your obligations, not your rights . Be a giver, not a taker!

This concept goes further than just laws. It affects every relationship we have. The saying goes: ‘Marriage is about give and take’. The Torah begs to differ. A marriage could be based on give and take, or even take and take; but the Torah’s view of marriage is give and give, with each partner entirely focused on the other.  It is not a focus on my rights but rather my duty towards my partner, regardless of the pay off my spouse will give in return. To give only in order to get is just taking in the guise of giving.

How does Mitzvah Day differ from the norm? Mitzvah Day is a day on which people are encouraged to give of their time and themselves rather than raise money.  Too often we associate giving with money, as if the concept of giving is reserved entirely to- wards ‘tzedakah’. Being a giver is bigger than that. Jacob says to God: ‘In all that You will give to me, I shall tithe it to You’ (Gen 28:22).

Rabbi Moshe Sternbuch in his book Ta’am V’Da’as explains the use of the word ‘all’.  God has graced us with many blessings; intelligence, personality, wealth and talents.  We are obligated to share all of these, and not solely money. On Mitzvah Day, thousands of Jews across the world of differing ages and backgrounds, come together to give of themselves to others.  What unifies us on this day is one central theme; the theme of ‘giving’.

Mitzvah Day should inspire us to take its message and apply it to the other 364 days of the year and become a true giver.

• Rabbi Avrohom Zeidman is the senior informal educator at Gift