What Goes Around Comes Around: A Lesson From a Rabbi

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tollboothThe following article by Rabbi Shmully Hecht appeared on NYDailyNews.com:

Driving down one of America’s major highways recently, I realized approaching the tollbooth that the electronic pass usually affixed to my window was missing. My friend Gregg and I scrambled for bills and change, and between our pockets and the glove compartment, we found enough in paper and coins to cover the toll and proceeded with great relief.

Passing through the booth, however, we were both stunned to learn that we did not have to pay the toll, because the car ahead had paid its own toll and then our toll of $5.50.

I was stunned and curious, and so we sped up to follow the other car. Was it someone I knew? Where was the license plate from?

But as we revved up to catch a glimpse of our benefactor, so did he or she, eventually accelerating such that I felt that the other car did not want to be caught up with, and so we slowed back down.

I asked Gregg if it could have been a friend of his who paid twice. It was not, he assured me, anyone he knew. And then he told me a story.

Gregg is a recovering alcoholic who has attended sobriety meetings for many years, where he learned from those sober even longer than he that if you are at the bottom, a great lift up is to do something for someone else; to shock yourself out of self-centered pity, to remember your constant ability, however down, to help someone else. One of his brothers in sobriety took to leaving enough money at his regular diner to pay for the next customer’s breakfast.

I don’t know if my benefactor was a millionaire or unemployed, but I do know he or she remained anonymous – and Gregg’s story brought me back to the teaching of Maimonides, the 12th century scholar who taught that the highest form of charity is where the giver and the receiver do not know of each other. Maimonides’ proscription removes the pride of the giver and stigma of the receiver and leaves only the beautiful human act of caring for another without self-interest.

And then I remembered what happened to me earlier in the day.

Walking to my office, I met a man seemingly homeless and certainly distraught. Could I spare him just 50 cents to help him out on his way to his sister’s house? He needed to visit her, and he assured me that it was his sister and not the liquor store owner or local drug dealer. He implored again with a sincerity and desperation that seemed in my judgment to be a genuine need to connect with a loved one and not just a chemical substance.

I did not have 50 cents, but I did have several bills – which I counted before giving all of them to him, making him promise me he would take the money he needed to get to his sister’s, and give the difference to her as a gift for hosting him.

I relate to you before my Creator and on my rabbinical honor, the difference in change was $5.50.

Rabbi Hecht is the co-founder and rabbinical adviser of Eliezer, the Jewish Society at Yale.

{NY Daily News/Noam Amdurski-Matzav.com Newscenter}


  1. Rabbi Hecht’s use or, rather, misuse of the word “proscription” in the following sentence is a classic case of sacrificing comprehension in a bid to sound loquacious.

    “Maimonides’ proscription removes the pride of the giver and stigma of the receiver and leaves only the beautiful human act of caring for another without self-interest.”

  2. These are nice ideas, “paying it forward” and random acts of kindness, but we, who descend from Avraham Avinu, the archetype of the baal chesed, should strive for mindful acts of chesed that are in the recipient’s best interests.

  3. To #1 to #3. What cynical, noncompassionate comments. To #3, very silly comment. Do you really think that Avraham Avinu checked out the veracity of the three melochim before he did the mitzvah of hachnosas orchim.

  4. Michali, I said mindful acts of cheseds in the recipients’ best interests. This has nothing to do with checking out the melochim’s veracity, it has to do with checking out what these visitors needed. At face value.

    I try not to be cynical though some things do bring it out. This was not one of them. This essay was nice, it was fine, I was just saying that we bring a bit more depth to the table.

  5. I agree with comment #5: cynicism is not a helpful attitude. However, when a story such as this appears in a major newspaper using words that I’m sure were thought to impress, but in actuality only border on a chilul H-Shem–not to mentionthe fact that I read the story threetimes to see what I could have possibly “missed”–
    Alas, I think comment #1 reached an accurate conclusion ;and I must,albeit sadly, concur.


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