The "way of G-d" has passed the test of time, providing a value system
and relating system which has been in consistent, successful use for 4,000
years. It can infuse life, fulfillment and harmony in a marriage whose
members choose to diligently make the necessary efforts and to faithfully
pass the necessary tests. A clear source for describing the difference
between modern societal values and the Torah's is in that gem of a tractate,
Pirkei Avos, chapter 5. "The one who says, 'What is mine is mine and what is
yours is yours,' is mediocre; and some authorities say that this trait is the
perversion of Sodom...The one who says, 'What is mine is yours and what is
yours is yours,' is G-dly."
The trait of "what is mine is mine and what is yours is yours" breeds
distance and separation between people. By establishing clear-cut boundaries
as to where "mine" and "yours" are firmly divided, an "existential wall" goes
up between people that is impenetrable. The mind focuses on self, on
entitlement, and on separateness. In fact, a verse in Proverbs (18:1) tells
us, "Self-centered-desire persues separateness." The uniting of hearts, by
virtue of authentic human relationship, is effectively blocked.
Rabbi Shimshon Rafael Hirsch, in his commentary to Pirkei Avos, says that
it would seem that a person keeping his property for himself and allowing no
one else to derive benefit from it, is midway between good and evil.
This mishna in Pirkei Avos continues by telling us that some Talmudic
sages teach that the city of Sodom carried this trait. The government of
Sodom decreed torture and punitive amputation for anyone who was kind or
hospitable, bringing this trait to its most perverse conclusions. We know
from the Torah, in the first half of Genesis chapter 19, that G-d destroyed
the entire city for its evil.
Continuing on about the trait of Sodom, Rabbi Hirsch writes words that
have striking timeless relevance today. He explains that selfishness removes
the central principle of lovingkindness from the human heart and mind. When
self-centered, mankind loses its G-d given nobility, and human society loses
the goal that G-d ordained for it as its destiny. I can practice kindness and
mercy only if I come to own property and establish authority over it, and
through my own free will and sense of duty, I give to another that which is
my legal right to keep for myself and on which the recipient has no legal
claim. When law would recognize my right to hold property and I freely give
it, then there is room for lovingkindness and mercy and the advancement of
the general welfare of our community. This is epitomized by the G-dly person
who says, "I will give to others that which is mine and I will make no
demands upon them in return." I don't say, "I have full rights to my
property. I choose to withhold. Go away and don't bother me." Rather, the
Torah attitude is: I have full authority and possession. I have to come to
own it - not for the purpose of keeping it - but, so that there is meaning
and accomplishment in my giving it away to you generously and willfully, and
because giving promotes love.
Giving is not limited to only property. Giving includes time, energy,
talent, concern, knowledge, encouragement, competent advice, listening,
empathy - all resources which can cause benefit to others.
Especially to your spouse. [to be continued]