Is there any truth to the popular statement, “What goes around, comes around”? It is a pithy phrase that is all too often suggested (somewhat viciously) after a person falls on hard times. Hardship occurs and suddenly everyone points to that person’s flaws and finds a way to connect those flaws to that person’s current difficult situation. 

The concept of “What goes around, comes around,” whether for good or ill, can be found in several forms in Jewish literature. While the most prominent of these is the idea of midah k’neged midah (measure for measure), one of the most interesting insights is a dialogue recorded in Talmud Shabbat: “Rabbi Hiyya said to his wife: ‘When a poor man comes, be quick to offer him bread, so that others may be quick to offer it to your children.’ ‘Are you cursing them [your own children, that they will be poor?]!’ she exclaimed.” 

Rabbi Hiyya responded by citing the School of Rabbi Ishmael, where it was taught, “It is a wheel that revolves in the world” as an explanation to Deuteronomy 15:10, “Because that for this thing [ the Lord your God will bless you in all your work, ”which uses the Hebrew word bi’glal, going around to mean “for this thing”] (Shabbat 151b).

The Talmud provides one more citation to explain this concept: “It was taught, Rabbi Gamaliel Beribbi said: ‘And He shall give you mercy, and have compassion upon you, and multiply you’ (Deuteronomy 13:17). [This means that] he Who is merciful to others, mercy is shown to him by Heaven, while he who is not merciful to others, mercy is not shown to him by Heaven” (ibid).

People will often try to second guess how the “wheel” works, but the fact of the matter is that no person can truly see into the lives of others. The person who was a miser could well have been the anonymous donor to the orphanage and the person who helped with every wedding could be taking a little off the books. Knowing, however, that one’s own choices can effect one’s future (and even the future of one’s children) is a helpful reminder of the power of one’s actions throughout one’s life. 

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