Friday, May 21, 2010

Lesson of the Rabbinate: Don’t do me any favors

I’m pretty sure I’ve blogged elsewhere about what may have been the best phone call I ever received as a rabbi.

The call came from an administrator with Torah uMesorah’s Summer SEED program, at a time when I had been trying, without success, to work with a different organization to arrange a summer learning program in my community. The other organization was hemming and hawing about whether and how much it would be able to help my community – and then in came this call, out of the blue, asking, “How can we help you?”

It wasn’t just that this call was a genuine and unsolicited offer of assistance. It was also that through the entire conversation, and through our subsequent conversations, I didn’t feel like a beneficiary.

With the other organization, I was made to feel like an unworthy petitioner. The SEED agent made it clear that I was doing him as much of a favor as he was doing for me, and for my community.

The result: I felt really good, and I was happy to work with him.

Critical Lesson in Community Service: The people I serve are doing me the favor, not the other way around.

Practical application for rabbis: Say Thank You, repeatedly, sincerely, with a smile, whether you are kashering their kitchen or learning Torah with them or officiating at their wedding. They are doing you the favor.


1. Simple: They are doing me a favor. Were I not benefiting on some level – emotional, financial, spiritual, whatever – I wouldn’t be doing it.

2. People like to give. If they feel like they are giving to you, and the experience doesn’t hurt, they will give to you again.

3. And the flip side: No one likes asking for a favor. If you make them feel like they are getting a handout, they won’t come back to you to do it again.

4. As the Sefer haChinuch likes to observe, אחרי הפעולות נמשכים הלבבות, your heart follows your deeds. If you express gratitude, you will come to act in a grateful manner – and that will be appreciated.

5. This is not necessarily intuitive, but in my experience it is true: People value interactions more when they feel like the giver, than when they feel like the recipient.

6. Your attitude is the prism through which your actions are viewed. If you display a sense that you are the giver, everything you do will be seen in that light - somewhat arrogant, somewhat condescending, somewhat entitled to thanks. And if you display an understanding that you are receiving, then everything will be seen in that light – which I believe is more positive.

7. And if you are a recipient, people will give to you in order to help you. If you are offering a favor, they might just as easily say, “No, thank you.”

In a sense, this last point is a lesson of the gifts brought by the נשיאים (heads of the tribes) for the dedication of the mishkan. Rashi to Bamidbar 7:3 cites a midrash to explain why the נשיאים did not bring gifts for the mishkan’s construction, and then did bring gifts at the start of its dedication: During the construction the leaders said that they would fill in whatever the nation didn’t bring, and so the nation did it all themselves. No one accepted their “favor.” This disappointment then motivated the נשיאים to stop seeing their gifts as a favor, and to rush to give at the beginning of the dedication.

Lesson of the Rabbinate: Don't do people any favors; instead, accept the favors they offer you...


  1. Thanks for this. I have rarely read anything truer.

  2. hopefully really true...