Lovely Eyes (Kidushin 7a)

My twin daughters are extraordinarily generous. Whenever I pick them up from preschool, I always have snacks lodged under our double stroller. The girls ask me for snacks because they are hungry, but they are never content to leave it at that. Outside their preschool is a playground where many of the parents and kids hang out after the school day is over. My girls make the rounds giving out snacks to each and every one of their friends in the schoolyard, as well as to any kids interested in a rice cake or pretzels. They insist not just on handing out a pretzel to each kid, but on offering the entire Tupperware container, so that each kid may choose how many he or she wants. Generally this means there are very few pretzels left for my girls, but they don’t seem to mind. The satisfaction they get out of sharing with others is presumably more valuable to them than another bite of salty crunch.


The Talmud has a term for this sense of satisfaction, as I recently discovered in learning daf yomi. In tractate Kidushin, which deals with betrothal and marriage (among other topics), the rabbis discuss the ways in which a woman may become betrothed to a man. Generally this is accomplished by means of the transfer of an object of value from a man to a woman, though the man my alternatively give the woman a written document attesting to their betrothal, or he may simply have intercourse with her. It is always the man who initiates. Well, almost always. The Talmud at the beginning of Kidushin (7a) describes the case of a woman who says to a man, “Take this coin, and with this coin you will be engaged to me.” At first glance this seems strange; since when does a woman give something to the man to effect betrothal? The rabbis of the Talmud explain that while it may appear that the woman is giving something to the man, in fact it is he who is giving something more significant to her. In this specific case, the rabbis explain, the man is an important person, and the woman receives the “gift” of being able to confer benefit on him—which is its own source of satisfaction.

It seems that the sages, like my daughters, understood the inherent value of conferring benefit on someone else, and the satisfaction of making others happy. The phrase used in the Talmud for this sense of satisfaction is טובת הנאה, i.e. the goodness of [conferring] benefit. Elsewhere the sages speak of what it means to give a gift בעין יפה, i.e. with a “lovely eye.” To give with a lovely eye is to give generously and capaciously. This is of course subjective, but it seems to have the power to alter objective reality: the sages speak of a measure known as a tefach, a handbreath, which is approximately eight centimeters. But everyone’s hand is a different width, and everyone’s sense of what is appropriate to hand out varies too. Thus the rabbis come up with the notion of a טפח שוחק, a laughing handbreath – which is a bit more of than just a handbreath. It is a handbreath given with a generous heart and a smiling face, much like the way my daughters hand out pretzels in the schoolyard.

I don’t know why my daughters are so generous. Is it just their temperaments? Is it because they are twins, and have had to share from the moment of conception? Or have they somehow internalized that we, thank God, have enough, and can afford to give to others? Has someone modeled this generosity for them? Certainly I can take no credit. Often at night, when I’m standing in the kitchen packing their lunches and restocking the bag of snacks I keep under their stroller, I find myself gritting my teeth that I have to replace the pretzels once again, even though I know my daughters hardly ate any of them. But then I stop for a moment and think about how lucky I am that God has shone His countenance upon me and given so generously to me, בעין יפה, granting me the gift of not one baby, but of two born simultaneously. Twins, I have no doubt, are the gift of lovely eyes, and I am grateful to God that my hands are so wide, and so full.

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