Shaarei Yosher, sec. 5: Sharing – part 1

Similarly it is appropriate to think about all the gifts of heaven “from the dew of the heavens and the fat of the land” (Bereishis 27:38) that they are given to the Jewish people as a whole. Their allotment to individuals is only in their role as caretakers until they divide it to those who need it, to each according to what is worthy for him, and to take for himself what is worthy for himself.
וכן ראוי להתבונן על כל מתנות שמים מטל שמים ומשמני הארץ שהם נתונים לכלל ישראל כולו, והתחלקותם להיחידים הוא רק בתור גזברות, על מנת שיחלקם לנצרכים, לכל אחד כחלק הראוי לו, וליטול לעצמו כפי חלקו הראוי לו.

When I quoted this portion to someone who grew up in the Soviet Union, the words “to each according to what is worthy for him, and to take for himself what is worthy for himself” triggered memories of Marx: “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs!” (Critique of the Gotha Program, ch. 1) But we can’t escape the fact that giving to those is need isn’t called “charity” in Hebrew, but “tzedaqah — justice.”

However, had we stopped at Rav Shimon’s discussion of the centrality of self-interest, and how ethics can be based on an informed self-interest, his position would have sounded like something out of Ayn Rand. Compare Rabbi Aqiva’s statement that if there is only enough water for one, you are not obligated to give it up or share to save another with these words Rand puts in the mouth of John Galt, “I swear—by my life and my love of it—that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine.”

Thus, all else being equal, items should go to those that need them. Recall, though, that Rav Shimon’s model isn’t a black-and-white, in the “ani” (my sense of “I’) or outside of it. “The poor of my city come first” — there are ever decreasing gradations of connection. So all else isn’t always equal.

Rav Shimon doesn’t expect someone to “live for the sake of another man”, but rather for the sake of the greater whole of which both of us are part. Nor does he expect me to give according to the needs of another, but rather to lose that feeling that he is “another” to begin with.

It is interesting to compare these words to those of Rav Shamshon Raphael Hirsch (Horeb par. 565, emphasis added):

G-d, to Whom you owe everything you possess, imposes upon you the duty not to consider it as given to you alone, but also to allow your brother who is poorer than you to make use of it, and to lend him money to enable him to rise out of his distress, to earn a livelihood and gain his independence at your side.”

Judaism is founded on the notion of beris, covenant. G-d forms covenants with Adam, Noach, Abram (and Abraham)… and the Torah itself is a beris. This is the topic of a prior post. To summarize, with an emphasis on the connnectionist aspect:

In the US, law is based on rights. Rights-based law trains the citizen to focus on insuring that no one else wrongs them. The line between people is protected by making sure no violator enters a victim’s space. But that has the danger of being abused as society slides into a culture of entitlement.

The historically common alternative is a contract-based law, people are given obligations to each other. Each side gives up something in order to get something from the other party that they value more. The line between people is protected by making sure no potential violator leaves his own space. People have obligations and restrictions that serve the other.

In a covenant, both sides come together to create something new. There are obligations and restrictions, as well. Not in deference to the other, but as my role toward that creation. The focus is thus not on protecting a line between people, but on people working together across those lines. Which would explain the value Rava ascribes to the middah of maavir al midosav (see the previous post). This is “keshe’ani le’atzmi, mah ani —When I am for myself alone, what am I?”

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