“Speak to the Children of Israel and they shall take to Me a portion, from every man whose heart will motivate him you shall take My portion.” (SHEMOT 25:2)
It is important to note that the above verse does not state “give Me a portion,” which would imply that property belongs to people who must now give from what is theirs to HaShem. The verse instead reads “take to Me a portion” meaning that Israel is to take from the Kadosh Barukh Hu what is in reality His and return it to Him as an offering. Man possesses no genuine ownership because everything that exists is the property of HaShem. He bestows it to man for use and even then only according to certain guidelines, the foremost condition being that His supreme ownership be acknowledged. This recognition is practiced in various ways, such as reciting brakhot on that from which one derives benefit, returning terumah and ma’aser to Kohanim and Levi’im, offering korbanot at the Temple in Jerusalem and giving tzedakah to those in need.
The Torah concept of tzedakah differs greatly from the gentile notion of charity. Western civilization views charity as a kindhearted act, as if the property truly belongs to the giver. If one wishes to donate portions of his wealth to the needy, he merits praise for his generosity. This view lies in direct contrast to the Torah concept of tzedakah, which is a Divine commandment based on tzedek (justice) and not on the generosity of a benevolent individual.
Despite significant differences between them, socially constructed economic systems and modes of production are generally based on the false perception that material goods actually belong to man. In this regard, there is little significant difference between conflicting ideologies that all falsely accept property as belonging to human beings.
Productive forces are gifts from HaShem. Not just the tools, materials and technologies used to produce goods but also forces such as human strength, creativity, intelligence and ingenuity. These are all bestowed upon man in order that we use them to construct an ideal world that will bring ultimate blessing to humankind.
Everything that exists is actually a unique expression of the timeless and boundless ultimate Reality we call HaShem. Everything in Creation belongs to Him and is given to man only in order that it attain full elevation in His service. Man is commanded to give in this world. Even one’s very life belongs to the Kadosh Barukh Hu and holds worth only to the extent that it is lived according to His Will. Therefore, whoever relates to property as if it is his own is on some level guilty of stealing from HaShem.
In the nineteenth chapter of Mesillat Yesharim, Rabbi Moshe Ḥaim Lutzatto elaborates on this point through the familiar example of Kayin and Hevel.
“Hevel offered of the first-born of his sheep and of their fats, and Kayin offered of the worst of the fruits of the earth, as we are told by our Sages of blessed memory (Bereishit Rabbah 22:5). What was the outcome? (BEREISHIT 4:4-5), ‘And HaShem gave heed to Hevel and his gift, but to Kayin and his gift He gave no heed.’ And (MALAKHI 1:14), ‘Cursed is the deceiver who has in his flock a male, but pledges and sacrifices an abomination to G-D… for I am a great King.’”
Hevel understood himself and everything he owned to have originated from HaShem. By offering the best of what he had to give, Hevel declared that he personally possessed nothing as everything ultimately belongs to G-D. Kayin, by contrast, was only prepared to offer his leftovers, indicating that he had no obligations to anyone and only gave to HaShem as an act of generosity. Thus his name Kayin – from kaniti (I have acquired) – implied that everything he owned belonged solely to him. By viewing his offering as a charitable act, Kayin essentially related to the Kadosh Barukh Hu as a beggar.
Our time, talents, skills and possessions are all gifts from HaShem to be used in His service. When a Jew puts himself and his private interests above the aspirations and mission of the collective Hebrew Nation, he is in actuality relating to G-D as a beggar. When one places his own pleasure, career or even personal mitzvot above the needs ofClal Yisrael and the broader human collective, he is expressing a base egoism and stealing from HaShem. Even those who immerse themselves in the study of Torah day and night must be careful to keep in mind that doing G-D’s Will is our primary function and that He has tasked the Jewish people with a unique historic mission that transcends each person’s individual success or piety.
Like material possessions and the means of production, our very lives belong to HaShem. This accounts for the Torah’s sharp prohibition against suicide. One’s life is not his own to destroy. Nor is it his own to preserve at the expense of the Hebrew mission. The Torah commands us to lay down our lives rather than commit certain specified prohibitions. Most important, a Jew is required to give up his life for the sanctification of G-D’s Name (how His Divine Ideal is perceived) in this world. InHilkhot Melakhim 7:15, the Rambam states that it is actually forbidden to fear our enemies in times of war. He further teaches that any Hebrew fighter who displays fear on the battlefield and withholds his sword from blood is essentially considered guilty of slaying fellow Jews.
The notion of giving everything to HaShem illustrates the difference between the mentality of redemption and that of the exile. In Israel today, Jews from diverse backgrounds are willing to leave their families and offer everything to their people. They are ready to take responsibility for the future of Israel as they go up to battle with the knowledge they may never return. Infused with a holy valor, the soldiers of Israel are prepared to give all of themselves for the national good because there is an understanding – although not always conscious – that Israel is one and that every individual Jew is responsible for the security and wellbeing of the collective Hebrew Nation. This readiness to give selflessly is true Ahavat Yisrael – the willingness to take responsibility and if necessary forfeit everything not only to ensure a better future for the Jewish people but also to achieve Israel’s goal of bringing humanity to a future of unparalleled blessing in the awareness of HaShem as the infinite Whole that creates all, sustains all, empowers all and loves all.
The exile mentality, by contrast, is not one that focuses on giving everything one has but merely one’s extras as an expression of generosity. These crumbs could be charitable contributions to worthwhile causes, political lobbying and demonstrations, attendance at parades or even travel to Israel on solidarity missions. While some might argue these acts to be of some benefit to the Jewish state, they are often performed out of kindness rather than from a genuine sense of national obligation or a deep understanding of Israel’s inner unity.
The essence of Ahavat Yisrael is the willingness to take responsibility for the future of the Jewish people. It is being prepared to give everything – even one’s life – without fear. Fear originates from the mistaken exilic perception of our selves as individuals detached from the greater collective. Such egoistic perspectives breed irresponsibility, as is characterized by Kayin’s dubious question of “Am I my brother’s keeper?” – a statement that often leads a person to offer only his leftovers, essentially treating the collective Hebrew Nation a beggar. When a Jew suddenly experiences true Ahavat Yisrael, his mind develops a national consciousness and his heart begins to genuinely experience a sense of brotherhood and unity with his people throughout the world. He begins to feel discomfort at living in a foreign country and suddenly begins to yearn for the soil of his native land. This powerful love generally finds expression through active participation in Israel’s collective destiny and the willingness to give everything with the knowledge that it actually all belongs to HaShem. And it is those who find themselves gripped by this all-encompassing emotional force that will ultimately become the heroes who advance history forward.