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Owning vs. Owing

What does "created for me" really mean?


"Penina"

As I was standing in line with my family at the pizza shop, some person walked in with an air of self-importance. He proceeded to cut in front of the entire line. "That guy acts like he owns the place," somebody remarked. As I heard this, I looked behind the counter and saw the man who actually did own the place. He was working hard and sweating with all the workers, trying to keep up with the long line of customers. This scene made me wonder who was actually acting like an owner.

Speaking of ownership, when it comes to the world, the Talmud encourages each person to have an attitude of owning the place. We should each say to ourselves "The world was created for me - it's my place." It is a feeling of being the owner and the boss. Everything else is there to help me run the place correctly. Why would the Talmud advocate individuals to have such an egocentric self-image? What gives me the right to think I am the 'main man'?

The answer lies in an understanding of what it actually means to be the 'main man'. According to some, having power gives you the right to act however you please. Nobody else deserves any respect or help because they are inferior and not even worth the time of day. The guy in the pizza shop 'acting like he owned the place' had no regard for anybody else in the room. Chances are that if he acted like that and actually did own a restaurant, it would not be doing too well.

Judaism understands ownership and control differently. Beginning with the mindset of "the world was created for me" it follows the logic that this means that everything else is there to serve the one person (the "me"), and to help that person complete his or her task. However, if everything else is there to help that one person, than that person has a tremendous responsibility. He or she must take care of everything that is around. Since it is there to serve them, their personal success or failure is intertwined with its success or failure. Therefore, it is in everybody's best interest (especially the owner's) for the owner to treat everything with respect. The real owner of the pizza shop understood that if he wanted his business to succeed, he had to sweat it out and cook pizza.

Power, control and responsibility - they can not be separated. Ironically, caring about ourselves logically obligates us to care about others. This is part of what it means when it says that all Jews are connected. Our roles are deeply interconnected. But it is not just with all Jews, and not just with all people - our fate is intertwined with everything that exists in the world. Taking care of animals and the environment will also help us in completing our own tasks.

In an ideal world, each person would have a sense of pride, ownership, and responsibility for the world. While it might sound contradictory for many people to be able to live lives of "the world was created for me" simultaneously, the truth is that many people embracing this attitude create a harmony. At that point, the world is enhanced precisely because everybody is looking out for each other. So we see that rather than adopting an attitude of self-importance, having power or control means accountability; it is an obligation to extend out. We are all encouraged to take on the title 'owner of the world'; but to succeed in the business, we have to let the customers have the first pizza.

penina@torah.org - Keep in touch!

 


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