January 4, 2017

The Hebrew word that changed how I view the Art of Gift Giving.


I recently attended a White Elephant gift exchange.

It can be difficult to buy for an event such as this. There is pressure to “gift well,” as everyone is judging each item opened, considering whether they will snatch it when their turn comes. We all want our gift to be liked by the recipient and hopefully, not traded in at first chance.

We laughed and cheered when a hand-sized, jewel-dotted cylinder that resembled a lipstick container transformed into a stun gun. The buyer informed us that one second will cause mild delirium. Five seconds of treatment will knock someone out. How do you beat that?

We ooed and aahhed at the gift from the trendy new body care store, where every item is organic, smells delicious, and can either be scrubbed all over your body or consumed by mouth, providing nutrition to boot.

Gift giving has always felt like a sacred responsibility to me. It’s not that I’m offended by the sweet offering of chocolate and marshmallows inside of a coffee cup (because I can always use all three), but I find myself struggling to choose a generic item such as that. Unless, of course, I have a screaming toddler on my hip—that year, your gift may suffer.

We often ask each other “What is the best gift you’ve ever received?” It’s a loaded question. Many don’t stop to think before responding that it was certainly a new Porsche’ or a Talkboy identical to the one Macaulay Culkin totted around New York City in Home Alone 2 (that was one of mine).

Sometimes though, we are gifted something so rich that it can only come to life by memory. We can’t find it to show you, because it’s not concrete. It is best described by words, bringing a story to life.

Kadosh, I recently learned, is a Hebrew word that means holy. Not holier than thou, just holy. A sacred moment that has been identified as such. This word is introduced in the Old Testament, and is meant to help us distinguish moments in our lives that feel like pure holiness, separate from the mundane—to seek them out, and fill ourselves with gratitude when we stop to recognize them. I am completely in love with this term, particularly in this season of life, where cultural pressures pound like the wind of a hurricane against the shutters of our minds, pushing their way in and around everything that is potentially kadosh. Like a tender moment with my mother, between the cries of grandchildren wishing to be scooped up. Or listening to my two-year-old son shriek “tickle, tickle tickle,” and my husband happily obliging. Ah yes, Kadosh.

A gift that brought me a moment of kadosh popped into mind while I was sitting in the aisle seat of the local theater, enjoying a symphony presentation of the Nutcracker. It is one of the best gifts I’ve ever received.

I watched with concentrated interest as the various artists spun their bodies in a beautifully controlled fashion. The response I felt welling inside me was excitement, peace, happiness. I began to smile without realizing it, the warm spark that is felt when watching creativity reveal itself. Musical composition. Dancing choreography. Acting. The human soul weaving all three together into a performance of art.

I thought of a time, seven-plus years ago, when my college best friends gifted my fiancé and I a set of ballroom dancing lessons as an engagement gift. They were to be in preparation for our first dance as a legally married couple. At the time, I was infatuated with this new person in my life, running around our city and neighboring states with him, feeling romantic and sophisticated at the ripe age of 22. The gift was appreciated, a way to tie up the evening with a glamorous bow to say, “Look how elegantly we are going to start our lives together.”

The lessons were fun and sweet. I would meet Adam once a week in a dance studio that was directly across the street from his old high school. Sometimes I would arrive in scrubs, right after a shift at the hospital, Adam wearing his business casual banking attire and a trepid smile.

I had years of modern and jazz (and one summer of failed ballet) lessons under my belt, and could follow simple choreography decently enough. Adam had a greater challenge laid out. The extent of his coordination had been concentrated on improving his golf swing. True to form, and ticking off one of many reasons why I love him, he dove in with an openness to learn. The moments with him in the studio were sweet and honest. He just wanted to make me happy. I felt like a princess. I remember the kind and patient, middle-aged dance instructor as he stood next to us, scratching his beard:

“He has potential” he would say about Adam. “He really does.”

Smitten, I agreed, but also wondered if he was trying to sell us an extension on our dance package.

My husband picked the song we would dance our first married dance to: “History in the Making” by Darius Rucker. Men don’t get to choose much else when it comes to wedding planning. We had sung along to the lyrics multiple times during our courtship, feeling the freedom of young love and adulthood at the same time that Rucker was spreading his wings as a solo artist, distinct from Hootie and the Blowfish.

The day of our wedding arrived. I had coordinated 100 percent of the event, and was a bit preoccupied with hoping the details of the day would stay glued. I forgot to be concerned that we would be performing a dance for our loved ones to see.

Immediately following our introduction to the reception hall, the familiar music began. I took a deep breath, and Adam led me onto the dance floor, beginning with a sneaky spin. There was a delighted crowd reaction as they realized we wouldn’t be merely rocking back and forth like the middle school version of a dance between two kids “going out.” No, this was to include dips and twirls and waltzing. I remember the energy of the people surrounding us, between us. It fed the moment.

Sure, I nearly had a wardrobe malfunction (my dress was strapless and I had lost a few pounds in the planning stress), but overall, it was lovely. It ended with a dramatic dip. I was to extend my body nearly parallel to the floor, entrusting Adam to support my weight. He did it, and he held on steadily. A nod to the requirements of a healthy marriage—dance together, learning as you go, and when the time comes that life tosses you a dip without so much as a care, look your person in the eyes and hold on steady, muting all of the surrounding noise.

There is an image on a CD, hidden in our bookshelf in an old novel, that captures the moment. We have just completed the grand finale and are frozen in our sloping position. Behind us stand the women that gave us this moment—my college best friends and roommates. Sisters from a season of life that seemed to pass all too quickly. Their faces are a mixture of smiles, tears, and graceful wonderment. Looking at this picture, you can feel their joy watching this dance come alive.

This image lives in my soul, surfacing in moments of heartache and pain and the mundane.

Perhaps, the richness of the gift was seeing them seeing us. Being gifted an experience tends to be richer than any concrete item we can hold, if we only remain open for the unveiling of the significance. How it feeds our soul, our Creator whispering softly in our ears “This is why I give you life: to love one another how I love you.”

A gift is not merely a gift. It is an opportunity to share your own creativity with another human being. It can reveal skill or style, it can invoke emotion that one didn’t know was there, it can resurface memories that have long felt passed away. It can inspire or thrill. It can light up a person’s world. It can open doors to new moments and conversations, novel thoughts and ideas. A good gift can be that nudge needed to get unstuck, or a warm blanket separating us from what is wrong in the world.

Kadosh defines the moment when my new husband gently lowered my body toward the dance floor while feeling the love and thrill pulsing from our friends just a few feet away. I pray that you are all blessed with a gift of kadosh, keeping your hearts open to the possibility of a holy moment.


Author: Bethany Bell

Image: Courtesy of author

Editor: Nicole Cameron

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