Remember that movie, Pay it Forward? The basic premise, really quite lovely, is that the world and society are bettered when each of us gives generously, perhaps especially to those we do not know. A couple weeks ago, I had a “pay it forward” moment, but instead of giving something I was called on to receive.
I was in Washington DC to support a congregant who was being honored that evening. I figured I would come in early and spend a few hours schmying around the mall, museums, etc. Lost and looking for the Georgetown garage where I was to leave my car for the day, I pulled into a loading zone to check my GPS. I was fumbling with my iPhone when a man exited the car in front of me and approached my window waving a small white ticket. “I just paid for 2 hours on this meter, but I have to go. Take my spot.” I knew I had no use for the ticket. The meter had a time-limit of 2 hours, and I needed to find parking for the whole day. Schlepping back to Georgetown to move my car wasn’t really an option. And yet as looked at this man rushing to get to whatever unexpected meeting caused him to forfeit his $2.00, something told me to take the ticket. I did. I smiled at him and said, “thanks!” After he drove off, I waited around for a few minutes to see if someone else would approach to whom I could pass along the favor. When no one did, I went to find my parking lot.
There’s a famous debate in the Talmud (Ketubbot 16b-17a) as to whether it’s acceptable, even laudable to lie to a bride on her wedding day. The sage Shammai says: Tell her the truth. If she’s ugly, say so! Hillel, on the other hand, reminds us that all brides are beautiful – and certainly on their wedding day ought to be told so! The Hebrew term for welcoming a bride is kabbalat panim (literally “receiving the face”). Hillel’s message? Receiving with kindness is more important than receiving with brutal honesty.
Human beings give. There is some fundamental need to do so. Sometimes we are tested in our preparedness to receive. Elsewhere, the Talmud tells us: “more than the calf likes to suckle, the mother cow needs to give milk” (Pesachim 112a).
Receiving is a gift we give to the giver.