Seidemann: The lesson of giving is a keeper


From the other side of the bench

By David Seidemann

Issue of July 17, 2009 / 25 Tammux 5769

I took a week off from writing last week, as my wife and I were busy marrying off a daughter. O.K., so she isn't our daughter, she is our niece. But it sure felt like we were marrying off a daughter. And no, we didn't have to pay for the wedding but we gladly would have. She moved into our home and hearts a year ago after graduating from Stern College. We have always been close to her. She was a flower girl at our wedding fifteen years ago and, this time, at her wedding, our two youngest daughters served as flower girls for her entourage.

In the year or so that she lived with us, she served as a role model for our four daughters and we already miss her.  Her groom, an exceptional young man, is both respectful and insightful. Together, we know they will serve as role models to other couples. I am not abashed to say that they inspire me to be a better partner to my wife. They personify the trait of "giving."

In my role as a rabbi years ago and now as a lawyer who, among other areas of law, practices matrimonial law, I have had occasion to witness many couples. I have observed different qualities of relationships. When both spouses are "takers" the relationship is doomed to fail. When one spouse is a giver and the other a taker, similar gloom is on the horizon. The giver will ultimately resent always giving and the taker will never be happy. The insatiable need of the taker to have their spouse fill the void created in their childhood can never be fulfilled.

When both give to each other, one would think that would be a model for success. But, truth be told, the "mutual perpetual givers" are also headed for tough times for a variety of reasons. After a while one partner is bound to feel that they have given more than the other. So while giving to the other to make the other happy has its virtues, it is still not the ultimate.

The best relationship is one whose giving is predicated on the premise that giving makes the Master of the Universe happy. One who gives for that reason can never feel cheated because G-d has always given more to that giver than the giver has given to G-d. That outlook is a recipe for success in a marriage and in life; and it was a theme that, as you are about to read, unfolded at my niece's wedding.

Ten minutes into the first dance set the groom's sister, who is also a long time close friend of the bride, fell and hurt her ankle. An ambulance was called; she was placed on a stretcher and taken to a hospital. She was in tears because of the intense pain but more so because she was going to miss her brother's and her best friend's wedding.

Through man's new best friend, the cell phone, her status at the hospital was monitored, as was her expected return time to the wedding hall. What was thought to be a fracture was diagnosed as a severe sprain and she returned at 11:30 p.m., on crutches with her foot tightly wrapped. She returned long after most of the guests had left, after all the tables had been cleared, after the floor had been swept and after the band had packed up and gone home.

She returned to a semi-darkened hall that exploded into joyous dancing when she

hobbled out of the cab. The family and twenty or so friends danced her into the wedding hall where the bandleader, Shloime Dachs, remained by himself without musical backup and sang a cappella for twenty minutes. He sang for twenty minutes so that this young woman could dance with her brother and her new sister-in-law. For me, those twenty minutes were the best part of the wedding.  Sheer joy, whose source was a giving of the highest and deepest quality, was on display.

As I put pen to paper for this column, I heard a similar story of giving that is so beautiful and inspiring that I want to share it as well. A local hamburger joint somewhere in Oklahoma sponsored a contest. Little 12-year-old Stevie was the winner and became the proud new owner of a ten-speed bicycle. Since he already had a bike, he gave the new one to a neighborhood child who did not have a bike.

When the owners of the hamburger joint heard of little Stevie's benevolence, they invited him back to the store and, with reporters and television cameras looking on, presented him with a $100 check. Stevie promptly cashed the check and purchased kneepads, wrist guards and a helmet for the boy to whom he had given the new bicycle.

Sometimes we learn "giving" from veterans of marriage, sometimes from new brides, grooms and friends of the couple.  Sometimes we learn giving from a paid entertainer who stays long after others have left to provide joy to one who missed out. And yes, sometimes we learn the art of giving from twelve-year-olds. No matter the source, the lesson is one to be taken to heart.

David Seidemann is a partner with the law firm of Seidemann & Mermelstein.  He can be reached at (718) 692-1013 and at ds [at]