By Rabbi Naftali Schiff
From black Friday until the January sales, the western world is engulfed in a consume-driven frenzy.
Over the festive period, people buy gifts of all shapes, sizes and price ranges for friends, family and colleagues. Although not mentioned in the classical sources, and perhaps influenced by wider societal norms, Chanukah has become a popular time for giving presents.
Chanukah presents are a wonderful way of creating positive associations with this festival, and provide children with warm experiences that they are likely to want to replicate in their own homes.
The giving of gifts is mentioned a number of times in the Torah, Jacob sends gifts to Esau and Pharaoh when he feels the need to appease them. Gifts create a sense of closeness and endear people to each other.
The Hebrew word for love, ahavah, is derived from the root hav, to give. Giving leads to loving, the more we give, the more we love. A gift creates a connection between two people; the recipient feels appreciated and valued, and the giver has the pleasure of knowing that they have made someone happy.
The Talmud (Shabbat 10b) develops this idea, by saying that one who gives a gift to a friend needs to inform them that they are doing so, in order for them to appreciate the value of the item and the sentiments behind the gift. Similarly, on Purim when we give mishloach manot, we are supposed to write who they are from (especially if they don’t recognise us in fancy dress).
An anonymous gift may flatter the recipient, but does not actually increase friendship and therefore defeats the purpose of mishloach manot. For many people, the most important part of the gift is, actually, the note, letter or greeting card that comes with it.
Just as we spend time considering and deliberating what to buy our friends and family, we ought to invest time and thought to the message we write in the card. Gift cards give us the opportunity to express feelings, sentiments and emotion that we may not articulate in day to day life. They enhance the present no end, and can really serve to develop relationships and friendships.
A gift, when given with a full heart, is not just for Chanukah – it’s for life!
• Rabbi Naftali Schiff is chairman of GIFT and CEO of Aish UK