Dear Readers,

Once, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev saw a man running breathlessly through the marketplace.

“Why are you running?” he asked.

“I am hurrying in pursuit of my livelihood!”

“But why do you believe that your livelihood is in front of you? Perhaps it is behind you, and you are running away from it!”

Though we need to exert real effort to earn our livelihood, ultimately our work is only a channel for Divine sustenance. We create the means, but we need to realize that the blessings come from Above.

In contrast, the Talmud teaches us that when it comes to our inner spiritual work, our progress directly correlates with our effort. “Everything is in the hands of Heaven, except fear of Heaven” (Brachot 33b).

Pirkei Avot, The Ethics of Our Fathers (5:10), speaks about people’s attitudes in their interactions with others.

There are four character types among people:

1) One who says, “My (property) is mine, and yours is yours” is an average type, but some say this is the character of Sodom.

2) “Mine is yours, and yours is mine”; this is an unlearned person.

3) “Mine is yours, and yours is yours” is pious.

4) “Yours is mine, and mine is mine” is wicked.

Some want only to take from others; this is wicked. Others want only to benefit others; this is pious. Some don’t see any boundaries; they share theirs but freely take yours. This is a boor. Others don’t want to be bothered by anyone— mine is mine, and yours is yours. Some consider this the trait of an average person, while others see this as the characteristic of Sodom, unethical and leading to stinginess and cruelty.

The Chassidic master Rabbi Simchah Bunim of Peshis’cha understood this Mishna as hinting about our attitude towards our spiritual or material pursuits.

“What’s mine is Yours,” we tell G‑d. Our spiritual growth, which really is in our hands, we wrongly see as being entirely up to G‑d; consequently, we don’t put forth effort into reaching higher.

On the other hand, “What’s Yours is mine.” When it comes to earning a livelihood, which is in G‑d’s hands, we believe is only up to my efforts, my business smarts, my connections and me.

On a similar train of thought, the Koznitzer Maggid describes the attitude of a righteous individual.

He tells G‑d, “What’s mine is Yours.” My things—like sleeping, eating and leisurely activities—are really Yours. I will try to use even these mundane things (my “off hours”) as a means of serving You to provide me with rest, energy and rejuvenation to strengthen my spiritual service.

Moreover, “What’s Yours is Yours,” even when I do mitzvot, which are spiritual quests, I will try to do them with the intention that I am doing it for You. Even though mitzvot give me greater meaning in life and great rewards in the Afterlife, I will work on doing them just because I value my relationship with You, and I know that this is Your will.

From our attitudes towards helping others to our attitudes towards our own spiritual service, the Mishna teaches us how to grow into greater people.

Chana Weisberg
Editor, TJW