Seven types of gifts

On the day that Chanukah began I listened on the radio to the Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis elucidate seven Hebrew words for gift, and I was mightily impressed. I also thought guiltily of the limited thought and effort that has one into my Christmas presents.

B’rakha is a good wish, a blessing. We should offer more blessings: not only priests can bless. I’m currently reading Benedictus by John O’Donohue, an Irish philosopher and poet. It contains many beautiful blessings, including a blessing for the earth and a blessing for the parent of a child who has died.

Minchah is the commonest Hebrew word for gift. It is an appropriate gift, but it’s also the kind of gift where the act of giving is more important than the gift itself. This is, I thought unkindly, many, probably most, Christmas gifts. You give for the sake of giving. You give presents with little idea whether the receivers will like them. You receive presents that you don’t want but thank the giver profusely. “It is,” as the cliché has it, “The thought that counts.”

Shai is a substantial gift, one given on a special occasion A special effort has been made.  It’s also a boy’s name.

Terumah is a gift to a worthy cause, perhaps to God or a charity.

Tzedakah is an unsolicited contribution that may mobilise others to give. It might be a sum of money that is given to match what others give.

Doron is a rare and timeless gift that is likely to have great sentimental value. A great deal of thought, love, and care goes into the gift. This is the sort of gift we would all like to give, one that gives great pleasure to both the giver and the receiver.   Doron is also a boy’s name, and our son James went to the bar mitzvah of his friend Doron.

Minahah [I can’t find this word online, so I must have it wrong] is a gift that facilitates bonding. A great deal of work and talent goes into the gift. It is a transformative gift that may bring people together.

The rabbi thought that the Covid vaccine is such a gift.

He composed his talk cleverly, combining the vaccine, the beginning of Chanukah, and some information that fascinated—all in a few minutes.

All of these words have distinct meanings and are useful, although another rabbi or person might well interpret the words differently. It illustrates to me how we may need many more words than we have. What a project to create a new language that included words with many more shades of meaning, incorporating, for example, all the Inuit words for snow and cold or the many different words the Ancient Greeks had for love.

My immediate reaction to the rabbi’s talk was that English had few words for gift. I thought of  present and donation, but when I looked in a Thesaurus I found: allowance, award, benefit, bonus, contribution, donation, endowment, favour, giveaway, grant, legacy, offering, premium, present, relief, reward, souvenir, subsidy, tip, tribute, alms, benefaction, bequest, bestowal, boon, bounty, charity, courtesy, dispensation, fairing, gratuity, hand, hand-me-down, handout, honorarium, lagniappe, largesse, libation, oblation, offertory, philanthropy, pittance, presentation, provision.

Maybe we have too many rather than too few words.

Here is a link to the rabbi’s talk, which I think will be around for a while and then disappear.

Thought for the Day – The celebrations of Chanukah begin this evening. Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis – 10/12/2020 – BBC Sounds

Thought for the Day – The celebrations of Chanukah begin this evening. … Thought for the Day

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