When I was between cell phones, I was unreachable for a while via cell, text and all forms of digital communication.

I have to tell you, I very much enjoyed my digital isolation. I discovered that I was rather delighted to be incommunicado.

Still, as much as I enjoyed my isolation, I felt stymied by my inability to reach out. There is something deeply satisfying about the opportunity to connect to others.

Charity Reach-Out

The Torah teaches us to reach out in every way, shape and form. If we grow fruits, we reach out to G‑d with the first ripened fruit. If we grow grain, we tithe to the Levites and the poor, and we reach out to the priests with offerings. When we have done all the reaching out that we can afford to do, we are expected to reach out to the Jerusalem community and give 10% of our earnings there.1

Why do we give so much away? By getting a cell phone, I gave away my time and privacy. By giving to charity, we give away our hard-earned money. Why do we do it? Of course, you can say that we do it to help those in need. We aren’t selfish; we are social creatures, and the plight of others touches us. But our own plight touches us even more, so why do we make do with less to help others?

And why did G‑d choose to create a world in which resources were distributed unequally? Many have posited that G‑d wanted to give us the opportunity to reach out and give to others. The money was never ours to keep; it was given to us to share. Our extra income is very much like a platter of sweets laid on a table. It isn’t meant for the person before whom it was placed. We are meant to take a little and share the rest.

But I want to talk about something else today because in the end, fair and ethical as our system is, it still leaves us feeling like we made a sacrifice; we gave away what we could have kept. There is a deeper aspect to charity that is completely gratifying, and that is what I like to call the “kindness reach-out.”

Kindness Reach-Out

There is a curious aspect to kindness that is hardly ever discussed. People who are inherently kind feel a need to give. They feel good when they give and constricted when no one around them has needs. If no one reaches out to them for help, they seek out people with needs. Then there are those who respond whenever there are needs, but are delighted to keep their money if no one reaches out for help.

Of the two, who do you think is more selfless, the one who responds only when there is a need, or the one who goes out and seeks out people with needs?

You would think that the latter is exceptionally selfless—like Abraham the Patriarch, who was frustrated on a very hot day because he wanted to share hospitality, but there were no guests because of the heat. It sounds selfless and generous. But the truth is different.

Selflessness is born of another’s need. This desire to give is born of one’s own need. Those who are inherently kind are frustrated by their inability to satisfy their own desire. They aren’t seeking poor people to help the poor. They are seeking poor people to satisfy their desire to give. They like to look in the mirror and see givers staring back at them. That isn’t generous. On some level, that is selfish.

Reach Out and Touch

Yet, here is the funny thing. Even though such people are desperate to give, they may not derive satisfaction unless they know that the poor really appreciated their gift. It is not enough for them to know that they gave. They want to hear that it worked out perfectly, that what they gave was really helpful. If they learn that their gifts weren’t particularly helpful or meaningful, they are saddened.

If their desire isn’t rooted in the needs of the poor, but in themselves, why do they care whether the poor were touched or not? They know the poor needed dinner, and they provided dinner. They know the poor needed a house, and they provided the house. Why do they care if the poor aren’t grateful? They aren’t chasing honor; their particular interest is generosity, the opportunity to help. And appreciated or not, they helped.

Let me give you an analogy. A famous speaker comes to town and, for a hefty fee, delivers a spellbinding lecture. The speaker knows that the lecture was superb. He told the right amount of jokes and covered each point in his notes. It couldn’t be better. Yet, when the speaker is told later by an audience member that the lecture touched him, the speaker is immensely gratified. A speaker takes more pleasure from touching a single audience member than from the knowledge that the lecture was superb. Why?

The Root Connection

Because my connection with others is deeper than my desire to help. When I first start out, I am motivated by selfish interests.I want to help others. I want to deliver a good speech. But when the product is delivered, I realize that I am not delivering things, I am touching people. And people, even strangers, are inherently connected with me. Essentially, all humans are one.

When I contemplate my interests, I reach only the aspects of myself that are reflected in my interests. When I find my connection with you, I access a part of me that is greater than me. I find that place where you and I are one, where the two of us are greater than the sum of our respective selves. Touching that part of me, making contact with the essence of my existence, the root of my soul, the very DNA of my humanity, is thrilling.

My initial motives might be selfish, but in the end, I discover that the true beauty of goodness, gratification and satisfaction cannot be had in isolation. It can only be found in harmony with another—true oneness.

That is why the Torah encourages us to give. It is not only because others have needs. It is also because we have needs. We have a need to discover our truest selves, something we can only discover by bonding with others.

May we reach out and discover our true selves in the coming year, through unity, kindness and love.2