I know, I know. Me and my Hebrew words. What can I say? I love them. I love, love, love them. I can’t believe I let my Hebrew lapse so badly. (Well, I can. It’s called grad school and children and jobs. But still. Such a tragedy.) Anyway, I actually JUST discovered this gem of a word last week while doing some research. I had to share. It’s apropos for tax day, I thought. And who doesn’t want a word to help us through tax season?!
V’natnu comes from the verb “natan,” which means “to give.” I remember this word, because my mnemonic device for it was, I have na-tan to give. (Now you’ll remember it too, eh?) This is where we get the name Nathan, which means “he gives.” Just in case you care about that.
Anyway, V’natnu means “each shall give,” and it’s got a ring of command to it, of declaration. It’s not a suggestion is what I’m saying. It’s a statement about how things are going to be, thank you very much. Each of you is going to give. The word shows up in Exodus 30:11, in a section talking about temple taxes, which actually is very fascinating but I’m going to stay on topic today…temple taxes will have to wait for another post. What’s fascinating and beautiful and true about this word is that it is a palindrome. It reads the same from right to left and left to right. (All the better for you, because I’m betting you read it left to right anyway, which is backwards. :) ) Even if you don’t know the letters, you can see that in the image above. It’s a mirror. And that of course is exactly what the word is trying to tell us. When we give, we are not only giving something but receiving something. It is better to give than to receive, and all of that. Charity goes both ways.
But that isn’t all. It’s not only Chicken Soup for the Soul in this word. It’s also justice. Because v’natnu also reminds us that even though we are giving now, next time we very well might be on the receiving end of things. Or, vice versa, we are receiving now while next time it will be up to us to give. This is reflective of the Golden Rule- treat others the way you would like to be treated. It’s that, but with a little extra reality kicked in. Treat others the way you want them to treat you when it’s your turn. Because it will be your turn.
Charity, or tzedekah to use the Jewish term, is about reciprocity. It’s about being connected to one another and reminding ourselves that independence is not the only thing. We are all connected, so that what I give to you is directly related to what you give to me in due time.
V’natnu is what we think about when we pay our taxes. We do not think about how mad we are that we have to pay so much. We think about how, if we were single parents working long hours for minimum wage trying to make ends meet, we would be grateful to receive the benefits. We think about how we might be paying now, but there may be a time in the future when we’re standing in the unemployment line or collecting food stamps or signing up for free healthcare. Maybe we have been there already, and this is a reminder that it’s our responsibility to pay that forward now that we’re doing alright.
V’natnu. Each shall give. Not, for people of faith, because our government requires it, but first because our God commands it. We take care of each other.
Or, as Bono says, we get to carry each other.
***The image above is a tzedakah box, which is a box where coins are collected, usually on the Sabbath, to give away. This box was curated by the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco, when they asked artists to explore their own interpretations of the tzedakah box. The artist above is Gale Antokal of San Jose, CA.