Pay It Forward

Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.  Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.                                                                                             II Corinthians 9:6-7

Since the start of the “drive-up window” of fast foods, there has existed this great phenomenon whereby a person in line at the pay window tells the cashier to charge him/her for the bill of the person in the car directly behind. This giving chain can last for dozens of cars at times, and it generates a sense of goodwill that lasts for a long time. It often has a carryover effect that results in more positivity toward others, a more hopeful outlook, and a sense of satisfaction for the giver (who, in this case, may also be a receiver).

An even better variant of this “pay it forward” plan, involves picking out someone, (or ideally, a family) in a restaurant and discretely telling the server that you would like to arrange to pay the bill for that family- anonymously.

This blesses the giver, the recipient, and the waiter/waitress- especially if the donor includes a generous tip for the server. This whole process reminded me about the levels of charity set forth centuries ago by the Jewish philosopher, Moses Maimonides.

Maimonides, a Sephardic Jewish philosopher from the 12th century, defined eight levels in giving charity (tzedakah), each one higher than the preceding one. On an ascending level, they are as follows:

8. When donations are given grudgingly.

7. When one gives less than he should, but does so cheerfully.

6. When one gives directly to the poor upon being asked.

5. When one gives directly to the poor without being asked.

4. Donations when the recipient is aware of the donor’s identity, but the donor still doesn’t know the specific identity of the recipient.

3. Donations when the donor is aware to whom the charity is being given, but the recipient is unaware of the source.

2. Giving assistance in such a way that the giver and recipient are unknown to each other. Communal funds, administered by responsible people are also in this category.

1. The highest form of charity is to help sustain a person before they become impoverished by offering a substantial gift in a dignified manner, or by extending a suitable loan, or by helping them find employment or establish themselves in business so as to make it unnecessary for them to become dependent on others. Anonymous giving is a blessing, and Maimonides identified the value of things like United Way long before such organizations existed. Giving is good for the giver, a plan that is central to our faith.

Prayer: Lord, thank you for the plan to provide for one another. It is good for all of your creation, Amen

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