When the Almighty created human beings he made them capable of both giving and taking.
The faculty of giving is a sublime power; it is one of the attributes of the blessed Creator of all things. He is the Giver par excellence; His mercy, His bounty and His goodness extend to all His creatures. His giving is pure giving for He takes nothing in return. He can take nothing for He lacks nothing, as the verse says, “. If you are righteous what do you give to Him ?”
Our service to Him is not for His need but for our own, since we need a means of expressing our gratitude to Him. Man has been granted this sublime power of giving, enabling him too to be merciful, to bestow happiness, to give of himself. “God created man in His own image.
The Side of Taking
On the other side stands the faculty of taking, by which a person aspires to draw to himself all that comes within his reach. This is what people call egotism or selfishness. It is the root of all the evils in the world.
Some people take without giving anything in return. They are robbers if they take by force, or thieves if they take by stealth, or swindlers if they are cunning enough to persuade others to give them their property of their own free will.
There are some who wreak their evil on a world scale—such as warmongers and perpetrators of genocide—while others operate on the individual level. The former have no judges among mankind; only God can give them their just deserts.
To deal with the second category men have set up the judicial system in order to protect themselves and also to establish norms of right conduct and to educate public opinion to look upon such behavior as shameful. But the root of the evil—the faculty of taking—remains intact.
Consequently, you should place no trust in man or in his civilization. Beneath this mask he continues to swindle, steal, rob and murder. Our Sages have long since laid bare his deceit when they told us: “If it were not for fear of the state, each man would swallow his neighbor alive.”
But there are some who take without doing any wrong to their fellows; they merely like to take without giving anything in return. For example, those who love gifts or inherited wealth or those who like to live at the public expense or those who seek gain or inflated profits. All these must be included among the “takers”; the wisest of men said of them: “He who hates gifts shall live. ”
The Roots of Character
These two powers—giving and taking—form the roots of all character-traits and of all actions. And note: there is no middle way. Every person is devoted, at the deepest level of his personality, to one or the other of the two sides, and in the innermost longing of the heart there are no compromises.
It is a basic law that there is no middle path in human interest. In every act, in every word, in every thought—except perhaps those directed towards his innermost self without any connection with anything outside himself—one is always devoted either to lovingkindness and giving or to grasping and taking.
We find a similar idea in The Duties of the Heart, where it is stated that in matters of the inner life there are no indifferent actions; there are only obligations or prohibitions.
R. Eliyahu Dessler
Tags: Giving and Taking, Strive for Truth