Thursday, May 22, 2014

PIRQE ABOT: Sodom vs. Mi Casa Es Tu Casa

The Mishna describes  four patterns of generosity / selfishness.

When somebody says:
1.What is mine is yours and what is yours is mine. Nonsense.
2.What is yours is mine and what is mine is mine. Evil.
3.What is mine is yours and what is yours is yours. Kindness.
4.What is yours is yours, and what is mine is mine.... some say, that was the trait (=the sin) of Sodom".

According to the Mishna, the ideal attitude in Judaism is to give with kindness, to share with others what God gave us. And all this, without expecting automatic reciprocity ("What is mine is yours and, what is yours is still yours"). This is the epitome of Jewish morality.

Now, what is so wrong about "What is yours is yours, and what is mine is mine". For many, "leave ME alone and I leave YOU alone" is the best possible scenario for living in society! Moreover, why the Mishna compares this seemingly perfect behavior with Sodom, the city of evil?

First, we need to remember that Sodom was a very rich area. No one was allowed into their city (into their "club") unless he was rich, like Lot. To prevent others from sharing in their wealth, the Sodomites legislated laws against helping the needy. Strangers and poor people were not welcomed, on the contrary, they were brutally abused. 

As it is typically the case in any corrupt society, to justify their selfish laws the Sodomites developed a suitable "philosophy"(which I cannot resist to comparing with the Nietzschean notion that helping the poor and the sick delays the evolution of the Ubermensch).  The people of Sodom reasoned: Why should we share what the gods had given us with the needy? That would be a sin! If the gods would have wanted this poor man to have food, they, the gods, would have given him food! Giving food to the poor will be definitely a sin: going against the will of the gods.  This cynical philosophy, which characterized Sodom, precipitated its destruction.

In Judaism, "Mine is yours, and yours is still yours" is the practical application of "You shall love your fellowman, as you love yourself"