There’s a mishneh in Perkei Avos (chapter 5:10).
There are four temperaments among men;
1) He who says: “What is mine is mine, and what is yours is yours,” is an average person…
2)He who says: “What is mine is yours, and what is yours is mine,” is uneducated.
3) He who says: ” What is mine is yours and what is yours is yours,” is righteous.
4)And he who says: “What is yours is mine and what is mine is mine,” is wicked.
Two of the examples are obvious. The average person and the wicked person make total sense. But why is “What is mine is yours, and what is yours is mine,” an ignorant perspective and why is ” What is mine is yours and what is yours is yours,” not foolish?
Before I answer that, I want to complicate things even further by bringing up a concept from this week’s parsha. The commandment of the shemittah (or sabbatical) year.
But in the seventh year, the land shall have a complete rest, a Sabbath to the Lord; you shall not sow your field, nor shall you prune your vineyard… it shall be a year of rest for the land. (Vayikra 25:4)
Just like how once every seven days we celebrate Shabbat, once every seven years we aren’t supposed to work the land. Not only that, you have to open up the your fields to everyone. Your servants, your laborers, your animals, even the beasts of the fields. Anyone can just walk in and take any of your produce.
A year off sounds like it could be nice. And given humanity’s impact on the environment, letting the earth take a break from us once every seven years certainly might be just what the doctor ordered. But c’mon! How are you going to live? You’re not making an income. You’re sharing all your crops with everyone in the 7th year. Then in the 8th year you’re not going to have any crops because you didn’t sew anything to grow. It’s a tremendous leap of faith.
Trust, Gratitude, Humility
When it comes to success there are two attitudes: “I worked harder than anyone else, I figured out all the tricks, I made it happen, it was all ME.” And the other, “I was given special gifts/abilities, I was in the right place at the right time, some one really helped me out, and I couldn’t have done it without my parents/mentor/spouse/God.” One is a view of entitlement and the other is a view of gratitude and humility. The truth of the matter is that all of us have both of these attitudes. And we have them about everything. The water in the tap, the clothes on our backs, our friends, our health and well-being. We even have it about the weather! “My phone said it was supposed to be clear today, but it’s raining! This screws us MY plans.”
When we acknowledge that what we have is a gift and that we could lose it at anytime, our appreciation swells. But when we tie that acknowledgement to God it changes our very awareness of the world. Yes, you still have to do the hard work. Not because that’s what it takes to get the grade/job/accomplishment, but because that’s how you need to grow in order to be ready to receive it.
So to take that year off from work, it means you honestly trust that your success isn’t determined by your boss, an awards committee, or “the numbers.” But by God. And that’s a hard thing to trust. Especially when you see good, decent, and even religious people struggling and suffering. How could anyone possibly take that leap? It’s a hard question to answer. All I will say for now (and this is a personal answer and this question deserves better than a personal answer) is that when I do actually view my income and my accomplishments as coming from God, even during my hardest leanest times, something has come through. Or if it hasn’t, where that trying time took me wasn’t so bad in the end.
Ignorant or Righteous?
So we’re left with the two quotes from the top. A)”Mine is yours, yours is mine” and B)”Mine is yours, yours is yours.” They both agree that your property is your neighbors’. One would think that given good, honest, respectable people (A) could work. And in a perfect world, it could. But we don’t live in a perfect world. We live in a world where the only thing you can ever truly change is yourself. So you can hold yourself to the level that whatever is mine, you can have too, but I can’t expect or force you to have that perspective yourself.
So (B) is the righteous attitude. But it’s also the scary one. Because if I let you have all my stuff and you don’t give me any of yours, there’s a good chance I’ll resent you if you don’t reciprocate and there’s also the chance you’ll bankrupt me. That’s why it is so crucial to acknowledge that my stuff isn’t mine to begin with, it’s God’s. And He has lent it to me. Not to hoard or buy the prettiest toys, but to grow, do good, and change the world.