Thank Gd our family is blessed with the ability to help our friends, whether it be with money, parenting issues, or just deciding which wallpaper looks best. I am always happy to help and being a good friend is my biggest reward. However, I have one friend who finds it necessary to buy me or other friends a gift to show her appreciation. This always upsets me. I feel that by receiving her gift it takes away from my missva of helping a friend, and ultimately from my Olam Haba (share in the next world), Gd forbid. I approached her and tried to discourage the practice, but to no avail. Am I crazy?
A Giving Friend
Dear Giving Friend,
While the questions about effects on your missva and Olam Haba are probably best answered by your local rabbi, looking at the situation from another perspective may help you better understand and accept your friend’s gift giving tendency on an intellectual level.
You and your friend may actually be two of a kind. Like many good people you both seem more comfortable doing for others, while feeling uncomfortable when on the receiving end. This is quite natural as some people find that receiving favors makes them feel awkward and needy, whereas giving makes them feel strong and proud.
With that in mind, realize that graceful acceptance of gifts from your friend would actually be a form of kindness in itself. In going against your natural tendency, by being a recipient instead of a giver, you would be bringing joy and contentment to your friend. Imagine for a moment if your friend denied you the opportunity to do her a favor, because she was uncomfortable accepting such kindness from you. You would likely feel upset about losing the opportunity to experience the pleasure described in your letter upon performing such favors.
Repaying your favor with a gift might also make your friend feel as if she has “evened the score,” which could be necessary for her emotional well being. Additionally, it allows her to ask you for another favor, should the need arise, without feeling like she is taking advantage of you. By receiving her gift, you are allowing her to feel that your relationship is fair.
Of course, you may feel that a gift is overcompensation for the simple favors you do, but realize that your friend’s desire to show her gratitude by sending a gift is her personal choice. To her, the exchange probably seems very fair and equitable.
However, if you find that the gifts are obviously beyond her means, you can insist that she repay you in kind instead. When you are in a jam, you’ll call on her to help. For example, if you picked up her kids, she can pick up yours one day. But it is crucial that you actually find something for her to do for you. If she is the only one asking and never gets a chance to reciprocate, she will most certainly be uncomfortable.
Remember, allowing your friend the opportunity to experience the same pleasures that you enjoy from giving, might be the most valuable favor you can do for her.