Mind Your Own Business?

Thursday, 25 October, 2018 - 8:59 am

When we reflect on the wickedness of Sodom, we usually think about extreme moral depravity and cruelty. We think about the manner in which they institutionalized corruption and abuse; the disregard for basic human dignity and their decadent attitude toward hedonistic indulgence.

Where does this start? How did they come to be such an immoral society? What measures can we take to protect ourselves from going down those same pathways?

Let us examine an interesting passage from the Talmud that sheds some light on this. Ethics of our Fathers (5:10) states: “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 Sodom. One who says, "What is mine is yours, and what is yours is yours" is a chassid (pious person). And one who says "What is mine is mine, and what is yours is mine" is wicked.”

So the attitude of what’s mine is mine and what’s yours is yours is defined as the character of Sodom (according the second opinion). One might think, what’s the big deal? You have yours and I have mine. It is about minding your own business. To each their own. Why is this the character of Sodom?

It is a natural human tendency to protect one’s self and property. We are instinctually inclined to self-preservation. However we also intellectually recognize the need for sharing and caring for others. Life is about getting ourselves to the point where what we understand overpowers our self-centered instinct. A moral and healthy human society is one where folks care and look out for each other.

Sodomite society created a philosophy out of selfishness. The weltanschauung of Sodom declared “what’s mine is mine and what’s your is yours.” Once that is your outlook on life, there is no limit to how low your society can sink.

In a sense, the Western societal rule of “mind your own business” is a subtle expression of the same Sodom-like sentiment. Judaism tells us that someone else’s welfare is my business. Obviously this is not a license for being a nosy yenta with no respect for human privacy and dignity. But we should not become so self-absorbed that we do not notice the needs of others and we are not moved to help them.

This is true in a material/physical sense; but also in a spiritual/religious sense. If we have the opportunity to encourage someone in their growth as a Jew, we should not “mind our own business.” Our sense of love and caring for another should lead us to proactively reach out to them and share something inspiring or invite them to participate in a Jewish experience.

So stop minding your own business. Shout from the rooftops about how wonderful Mitzvot are. Declare your passion for Torah and Judaism by sharing them with others! If you need to appeal to your self-preservation side, doing this feels really good and meaningful once you get past the initial discomfort with not “minding your own business.”

On a different note, the Eva Schloss lecture next month is at 90% capacity. We are getting ready to move to standing room only and consider an overflow area. Get your tickets now before it is too late.  

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

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