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Parashat Emor

"What's Mine is Mine and What's Yours is Yours" (Pirkei Avot, chapter 5, mishnah 13)

One would think that there's nothing morally or unethical in a person who holds this attitude to property and to wealth. All that that person is saying is that the wealth was earned honestly, properly looked after and is not used to harm of the other people's possessions or persons; similarly, other people are expected to earn their wealth honestly and prevent it from harming or encroaching the wealth of their neighbors property. Seen in the light of present-day economic behavior or in the parameters of the free market economy, one would expect the rabbi of the mishnah to say, "that is a good person". Yet too that rabbi can only credit such behavior with the "the mark of an average man"-neither criminal nor immoral but spiritually mediocre.

Judaism recognizes private property and its moral value so that we have many laws protecting that private property from theft and damage. However, there is no place in our value system for the concept of unlimited private property. It is true that a person's property and wealth is their own, meant to provide for their needs and those of their family, yet it is not altogether only theirs. The same is true of the development and use of natural resources. While all natural resources- animal, vegetable and mineral- exist for the benefit of mankind who are the pinnacle of creation, these resources may be used for our benefit; not to be wasted or abused. We may regard our private property as something that we hold only as guardians; " The land shall not be sold in perpetuity, for the land belongs to Me [G-d], for you are only strangers and sojourners with Me" (Lev.25:23).We are permitted to use that property as long as it is also used to benefit others.

This Jewish obligation use our property-wealth to assist others, is not left to the free will of the individual; it is not a question to resolve solely on the basis of compassion, mercy, or personal feelings. These are obligations that go beyond questions of charity or philanthropy so can be enforced by the state or by communal bodies. Just as prayer or sexual morality in Judaism are not left to the judgment of the individual will or the current consensus of society, to be observed whenever or if ever the spirit moves one, but is translated into permitted and forbidden action, so too, are the Jewish obligations that fall on owners of wealth. The assistance to the poor, the weak and the treatment of ecology and the environment, cannot be delegated to the sphere of individual conscience. Therefore the community has the right to tax the individual for these social purposes and to introduce the legislation that forces the individual to part with part of obviously private wealth, to protect the rights of stakeholders, and to preserve the environment for future generations and prevent its abuse.

State or legal action alone, however, cannot create a moral and ethical society. This requires an educational basis and a commonly accepted value structure if it used to be replied liable, effective and permanent. Judaism and downs worth wealth of wealth of such a value structure, for us it is sufficient to draw and attend the attention to 1 only one of them. Save her a single bracket prayer prevent this those prevent this those who returned written in the 13th century Spain, Barcelona] describes the ethical, spiritual and ideological reasons behind the mitzvah of payout as follows:

"God wanted to us to become used to helping others, to develop a merit of mercy, to become used to giving away something which actually belonged to do us. [This has to be done by continually teaching the practice of mercy. At the same time the educational process of the own is not to ensure and implementation of these noble ideas. Education of its own, may simply create the noble intentions.] So we are obligated to perform actions, that will train us until these merits become second nature. A person who actually leaves the corners of his field for the benefit of the poor and the stranger, acquires a generous soul, through this mitzvah he becomes generous to other people" (Sefer Hachinuch, mitzvoth 216, 217).

In our Mishnah the text continues as follows, "Some say that this is the mark of the people of Sodom". In other words, the author is adding to the concept of individual egoism a further perspective of a selfish society. In the Bible we are simply told that the people of Sodom were exceedingly evil unto the Lord, yet we are not told what they actually did. On the basis of the text in Genesis it would seem that they were guilty of homosexuality, Sodom being the origin of the word, Sodomy. The medrashim tell of their refusal to welcome guests and the punishments meted out to those who were hospitable to strangers, while the Malbim comments that all 4 cities were extremely wealthy, but their wealth led them to keep out strangers because they were frightened that the tribes surrounding them would come en mass to share in their wealth. “Mine is mine and yours is yours " is saying that in Sodom people refused to acknowledge that they had any obligation to help. What they said in effect was, "I do not care what you do, whether you are sick, old or poor. While I will not steal from you, neither I help you".

However, closer examination of the first part of the Mishnah shows an important idea that might not come through in the English translation. When an individual says, "I have no financial obligations to you", then a society can still exist. But, 'Yesh Omrim' when everybody says mine is mine and yours is yours, that society has accepted a concept of absolute private property. Then economic evil has gone far from the selfishness or crimes of marginal individuals-the whole society becomes corrupt. It was not the individual act of inhospitality that characterized Sodom, but rather the collective refusal to utilize wealth to alleviate suffering.

We should remember that in Sodom they refused entry to immigrants but no to those like Lot who was wealthy, such people were welcome in Sodom. This is a parallel to wealthy countries of today, which have free immigration for capitalist immigrants but turn away the poor seeking to better their lives.

The effect of the concept of mine is mien and yours is yours goes beyond mere selfishness, individual and communal. When a society maintains absolute private property, it does 2 things:

Like Sodom it rejects the concern for the unfortunate, the inefficient, the helpless, the sick and the old. In modern parlance the gap between them and the successful sectors, grows and an underclass of people destined to perpetual poverty is developed such as exists today in Israel and the whole Western world.

However, such a society rejects the Divine source of its wealth and frees itself for widespread economical immorality since people see themselves as the sole source and owner of wealth until the two become integrated. Then the acquisition of wealth by any means, moral or immoral, becomes the main purpose of life, a lust to be satisfied at all costs. : “What’s mine is Mine” is the ideological preparation for a society in which institutionalized theft and legalized inhumanity flourish. In a Jewish view, such a society, like Sodom, is doomed to destruction.

[As we are nearing the end of these articles on the challenge of wealth, having completed the sedrahs etc, the reader is referred to my books, “With All Your Possessions “ and the “Challenge of Wealth” and “Al Chet; Sins in the Market Place”[all published by Jason Aronson] for further study.

From Parshat Bamidbar, I will be presenting on this web site, the weekly parshiot as seen by Don Yitzchok Abarbanel, Torah scholar, Cabbalist, statesman, financier and communal leader.]


Text Copyright © 2004 by Rabbi Dr. Meir Tamari and Torah.org

Rabbi Dr. Tamari is a renowned economist, Jewish scholar, and founder of the Center For Business Ethics (www.besr.org) in Jerusalem.


 






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