It's too early to begin buying gifts. It's not even Thanksgiving yet! And it's not the right Parshah - that comes next week-the scene where Jacob gives gifts to his brother Esau in his attempt to reconcile with his twin over his purloining of Esau's rightful blessing. Next week's Parshah always precedes Chanukah and coincidentally brings up the idea of gift-giving, albeit with ulterior motives. Unlike Jacob's stratagem to win over his elder brother, we offer gifts out of love and friendship. It is fun to exchange gifts and to share good times with our loved ones. Year in and year out, gift-giving is fun.
But this year I am feeling different. This year I can't focus on finding the right gift for that special someone. My thoughts are elsewhere. My thoughts are with 11 families in Pittsburgh, 12 families in Thousand Oaks, thousands of families in the Florida Panhandle and the Carolinas and California. In the immediate aftermath of two horrific shootings, two hurricanes and a chain of wildfires my need for another necktie or snazzy socks is inconsequential. My desire to select just the right pair of earrings or sweater is wholly out of place. In such anguish-laden times I ask myself how I should act as a man and as a Jew. And I continue to hear a still, small voice whisper that I need to show I care; I need to act differently than the hordes of people who are descending upon shopping malls or unlocking cyber-wallets in advance of Black Friday and Cyber Monday. I need to show respectful tenderness and I need to repair the world in my own personal way even though I didn't break it.
So although it's early for me, I am preparing Tzedakah for Chanukah. That's not to say our family won't exchange gifts-we will-but we are going to tone it down this year. I am sharing with my loved ones, family members and Shul members alike, a personal need to add to the world, to serve others, to make a mark and to keep the memories of those lost uppermost in my heart and those in need of re-building uppermost in my mind.
Perhaps you will support a variety of organizations and donate to funds in honor of your relatives- -giving a gift of a different quality this year. And for those young parents who have young children- this may be an opportunity to speak of sharing with families who have lost clothes and toys without scaring your own kids -just by saying "this year we have 3 toys instead of 4 so we can provide a toy to a child who does not have one."
You might consider donating to Nechama, a volunteer hands-on Jewish disaster response organization which has been on the ground in Georgia since Hurricane Florence demolished the Carolinas or to the Los Angeles Federation in support of Wildfire relief. Both sites are secure. Or you might plant trees in the names of people killed in a Pittsburgh Shul (through our own Shul or JNF).