Person A: “Thank you.”
Person B: “No, thank YOU!”
What happened there?
B helped A.
A said thank you.
B points out that B should be thanking A, because somehow, in the encounter, A helped B even more than B helped A.
Opening premise of the next case: According to Halacha, a marriage bond (Kiddushin) is effected when a man gives a woman an item of value. It does not work when a woman gives a man an item of value, or when they exchange items.
Now the case: According to the Talmud, and this premise, if a woman wants to give a VIP an item of value, he can marry her via acceptance of the gift. Why? Because giving this man something is an event that has economic value. (If you are having trouble imagining how this is so, just imagine how much a person would be willing to pay for the privilege of hosting some famous leader for dinner, or even being the one to hand the President a key to the city.)
What happened in that case? The giver becomes the recipient, and the recipient became the giver.
Any sense of dignity mandates that the recipient be a giver. As one of my teachers has put it: Imagine a husband telling a wife, “I am in this marriage as an act of altruism. I gain no pleasure or joy from it. It’s all for you.” I can’t think of many statements that would be more inherently offensive.
A receiver is an important partner in an exchange. The apparent passivity is often misunderstood. It should not be misunderstood. The receiver should know his power. And the giver needs to understand that too.
If you are the Baal-Chesed, the helper, helping, don’t see yourself as being in charge. According to the logic of help, the one being helped should be in charge. Yet so many people shoot themselves in the foot by entering a situation, (e.g. their married daughter’s kitchen) announcing that they are “here to help” and then hijacking the whole operation. That goes against the virtue of connection via kindness.
Another angle here: The recipient of your kindness is not an object. The well-known story of the Bobover Rebbe applies here. He was in the hospital and someone came to visit him. At the end of the visit, the man said, “I want to thank you for giving me the opportunity to perform the Mitzvah of Bikur Cholim.” The Rebbe replied, “I am not your Lulav.” Meaning, I am a human being, and not an object you perform a commandment with.
“It’s not about you.” It’s about the new entity being formed, the friendship, or relationship between the two (or more) of you all.
The metaphor in Jewish thought is that of the sun and the moon, from the Earth’s perspective. The sun gives the light that the moon reflects. Yet, from our perspective, they are equal in size. In the future world, Isaiah says that the moon will be as bright as the sun. The significance of the receiver will be perceived by all to be as great as that of the giver. It’s something we should appreciate now.