Avoiding Middos Sedom

In this week Parsha, we learn about the destruction of Sedom, primarily because of their lack of chesed. The Gemora in Bava Basra 12B, says that one who does not allow a transaction where he doesn’t lose anything, and the other person will benefit, as Middos Sedom.

The Mishnah in Avos teaches that:

One Who Says: “My property is mine and yours is yours” is an average character type, but some say that this is the characteristic of Sodom.

The Maharal explains that a person has a perfect right to keep his property to himself according to Torah law. This person is average in that he is not scrupulously pious with his possessions, but at the same time he isn’t covetous of others’ things.

The people of Sedom hated giving to help others so much, that they were willing to forgo receiving help in their own time of need. According to the view that “what is mine is mine” is an evil trait the person will not lend his possessions even if it doesn’t cost him anything because he begrudges helping others. In the same vein he doesn’t say “What is yours is yours” out of respect for people’s property, but rather as a pretext to justify not helping others.

Whether “Mine is mine, yours is yours ” is average or evil depends on the intent of the person. The test of intent comes when someone wants to use something in a way that will not cause loss to the owner. The person with evil intent will not lend claiming “Mine is mine, yours is yours”. The average person doesn’t link respect for another person’s property to his own rights of ownership and will lend things if it causes him no loss.

In practice, the pothole here is calculating whether there really is a loss. There are situations in the Gemora where it looks like a loss, but it is really Middos Sedom. Perhaps we need to be careful and make sure that we don’t gently edge over the line and become people acting on the negative character trait of Middos Sedom.

3 comments on “Avoiding Middos Sedom

  1. As an only child, i never had to “share”. What was mine, was always mine. My husband grew up with siblings. He noticed that when i poured a drink or prepared a snack, i would prepare for myself without offering him a piece. I just assumed if he wanted some, he would ask. He explained that growing up with siblings – you always gave some to your brother and sister. So it was ours to share.

    we can extend this further to – our wealth was granted by Hashem to us to share – our talents, our physical property – is all just “borrowed”. They are ours to share with our families and our fellow humans in the practice of Mitzvot.

  2. If “mine” means “mine to do anything I want”, that is a problem. If “mine” means “mine to do what HaShem wants”, that is in keeping with our role here. Calculations about how much I give vs. get in doing what HaShem wants are a distraction.

  3. The inverse point of your statement, that “the people of Sedom hated giving to help others so much, that they were willing to forgo receiving help in their own time of need” is, that somebody just gives in order to receive in a time of need.

    But as far as I relate to the mizvos of giving zedakah or borrowing (money, utensils, books, clothes, cars, etc.) and similar things, the aim should be lesheim shomayim, and not to receive help in a time of need.

    As you see in parshas mishpotim, the jewish people are living according to the torah even when it comes to bein odom lechaveiroh. You love your fellow jew because the torah/hashem wants us to do it, not for other reasons! (Kashia)

    From the other side you can see by the concept of “Chessed shel Emmes”, (chessed done with the dead, where you cant expect any reverse help), that chessed completely lesheim shomayim just exists in this special, underterrestrial case.

    In all the other cases normal people also are motivated by the fact, that the people they are helping now, will pay them back one day.

    So even if you have some loss, since you receive something back, you can still give.

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