[Jack’s Gaza Update 16 is here.]
15 of my last 16 posts, going back to Saturday night December 27th, have been on the Gaza war. The war remains as significant as ever, but I have nothing new to say about it today (although this short piece on Israel and the media is starting something in my head). So, here goes with something else:
One of the truly vexing problems that comes with the rabbinate is this: How do you handle presents?
Yes, I know what you’re thinking: Some big problems you have, rabbi. No wonder you have so much stress. How about you send that problem my way?
But I’m actually serious: Gift-giving is a real problem for rabbis.
People are kind, and they like to display gratitude for the things the rabbi does. Maybe it’s because of a lifecycle event with which he helped, or some counseling he did, or a crisis he helped them weather, or one of any number of things... there are people who like to give the rabbi a gift, whether cash or an item or a service.
And I, for one, have a hard time accepting gifts, for several reasons:
First, I don’t want to have visions of reimbursal in my head when I help someone.
Can you imagine a kid making nice to his great-aunt as part of a plan to gain an inheritance? Yuck.
And lest I say I could accept the gift and remain neutral, I am reminded of the gemara in Sanhedrin (re: judges) warning that one cannot accept a gift and remain neutral.
Second, I don’t want anyone to think that I give special treatment to people who pay more.
I worry that if I were to accept such a gift, even without letting it affect me, people (whether the giver or anyone who heard about it) would assume that I had been affected by the gift.
Third, I don’t want anyone to have to feel like they need to pay me in order to get my assistance.
I am here to help, that’s it. Yes, the community pays me, so there is money involved - but no individual should ever feel like they have a lesser or greater claim on my attention, based on how much they have contributed toward that salary.
Fourth, I don’t want anyone to see me as a charity case.
I work hard, and make a good salary. Granted that some 40% of that salary then goes for tuition, but it’s no different from anyone else’s day-to-day struggle. So why am I getting unsolicited help?
On the other hand, people mean well when they offer these gifts. They aren’t trying to bribe me, or to gain some special advantage; it’s just an expression of gratitude or respect. Therefore, refusal can sometimes be viewed as an insult.
Worse, declining might sometimes be viewed as rejection of the person, instead of the gift.
Which leaves me trying to figure out what to do, every time this comes up. I usually demur, but there have been occasions when I have accepted, rather than insult a person.
So the other day I declined a generous offer someone had extended, and he said to me, “You know, rabbi, there are ways to give gifts, and ways to accept gifts.”
That has the ring of sage advice. But how? What are the ways?
I turn to you:
1) What are good ways to accept gifts?
2) And - please comment anonymously on this - what is your rabbi’s approach to accepting gifts?