There are four types of people: One who says, "What
is mine is yours, and what is yours is mine," is a boor.
One who says, "What is mine is mine, and what is yours
is yours"-this is a median characteristic; others say
that this is the character of a Sodomite. One who says, "What
is mine is yours, and what is yours is yours," is a chassid
(pious one). And one who says, "What is mine is mine,
and what is yours is mine," is wicked.
Ethics of the Fathers, 5:10
As a rule, the Ethics of the Fathers deals with the area
known as "beyond the letter of the law" - not with
establishing what is forbidden or permitted (as do the other
62 tractates of the Talmud), but with the conduct of the pious
individual who wishes to go beyond what is mandated by the
laws of the Torah.
So the above mishnah requires some clarification. According
to Torah law, the concept of charity - i.e., to share what
one has been given with the less fortunate - is not an optional
"pious" practice but an obligation; and to make
use of another's possessions as if they were one's own certainly
violates the most basic legal precepts of the Torah. Accordingly,
one who adapts a policy of "yours is mine" and/or
"mine is mine" is not only "wicked" by
the pious standards of the Ethics, but by the rudimentaries
of Torah law as well. So what principle "beyond the letter
of the law" is this passage conveying to us?
But when the Ethics says, "One who says...," it
means just that. The issue here is not that it is wrong to
steal or that it is mandatory to give, but a matter of attitude.
According to the "dry" law, it makes no difference
what one thinks or feels or says, as long as one does what
is right. But the "chassidic" standards of the Ethics
demand more than an impeccable exterior.
This is the deeper significance of the term "within
the line of the law": that the inner environment of a
person's character and personality be in line with his actions.
A person may be generous in practice; but should he in any
way express the attitude that he is giving what is by rights
his, he has failed to assimilate the Torah's concept of charity
as part of his inner self.
This is an excerpt from "Beyond the Letter of the
Law" by Yanki Tauber published by The Meaningful Life