Jacob D. Chatinover
“There are four traits among people.
The One Who Says: ‘What’s mine is mine, what’s yours is yours’: this is the trait of the average person (Beinoni). However, some say it is the trait of Sodom.
‘What’s mine is yours, what’s yours is mine’: the proletarian (`Am ha-Aretz).
‘What’s mine is yours, what’s yours is yours’: the giver (Ḥasid).
‘What’s yours is mine, what’s mine is mine’: the wrong (Rasha`).”
Pirké Avot 5:12, 1st century
“The matter of Shmita and Yovel correspond to the way of being, ‘What’s mine is yours, what’s yours is yours: the trait of the Hasid.’ ”
Mei HaShiloach (Rabbi Mordechai Yosef of Izhbitz, 19th century)
On Tuesday we had the pleasure of showing the bus to the Moishe House of St. Louis and their community members. Since we run programs for children from 3 years-old to 70, the first thing I noticed was how lovely it was to spend some time with people our own age and stage in life (well … mostly. None of them live on a bus 🙂 ) I felt I was able to say what really excited me about this topsy-turvy adventure machine, in my own words, instead of trying to anticipate what would excite them and direct my presentation to that. It was also really interesting to run essentially the same programming we do for young children, and see how they reacted to it and interacted with it. Adults my age do like being silly, the only difference is they take silliness very seriously.
After we showed them our oil system, touched the worms, and ate some of the delicious cucumber that we got from the Mitzvah Garden in Kansas City, we opened a discussion on creating community around values of sustainability. We began with these quotes to frame it. What follows is a combination of their ideas and my ideas: the four traits exist in all of us at different times (obviously; this is always true when the Rabbis divide humanity into categories), and these are four models people use when creating community. These traits are relational traits, they don’t exist without other people. And these traits create a relationship: what I give you and what I expect you give to me, of your property and of yourself, are the essential basis of what we mean to each other.
Everything is Shared – the am ha’arets
Some models of community have everything shared, with no personal possession. This often also means that there is no space for individual identity, and everyone is compressed into one communal name. This has benefits of unity, but also conformity; it creates social stability, but results in monoculture. The Rabbis understand how this intention could be appealing, albeit misled. Thus they attribute it to the working man, the `am ha-arets, which also has connotations of the uneducated.
Nothing is Shared – the beinoni
The most common thinking, that of the beinoni, creates room for the individual but separates people from each other. Some Moishe House folks suggested that it would make no community at all, rather a selection of people living near each other, but in their own worlds. One thing the Topsy Turvy team made clear at the beginning of our journey is that with so much shared, the little that is personal must be held sacred. If Benji buys a pack of Spicy Buffalo Pretzel Bits, he can expect with confidence that no-one but he will eat them; and this is essential. If Sonia needs to take some time for herself, she should be granted that. It may seem small, but it is the largest factor to sustained shlom-bayit, balance and peace. But the term beinoni also means morally mediocre, not just statistically common. It’s important to give space when space is requested, but we should be very careful when requesting it. Some Rabbis held that this is the trait of Sodom, the city of inhospitality. If all we can give is space, it’s all we will want from each other. So far, I think we have held this balance and given it the gravity it deserves.
All Mine, All Yours – the rasha` and the ḥasid
The word rasha` is a courtroom term for the one found guilty, whose claim is judged to be wrong. A person who feels that everything they have they deserve, and that everybody else exists in order to provide benefit to them is not just bad, they’re incorrect. In my opinion, this is the most important thing I’ve learned through teaching Teva, and it’s the message I can most passionately transmit to my peers across the country. I can’t act as if it’s my world, that my actions don’t affect others, or that my station is not dependent upon the actions of others. Not only would that be a destructive worldview, it’s just not accurate. We live in complex systems. We live in biomes, where all flora and fauna, from Red Wigglers to Redwoods, interact to determine the health of each member species. Land-rest reminds us of this. We live in complex economic systems, where the labor of millions of other people all interact to produce the goods we need to live and to provide the conditions for our wealth. Debt-release reminds us of this. And traveling across the country meeting truckers and restaurant owners and citizens of all stripes helps me remember this, too. Lastly we live in complex social systems. The communities that we form provide for so many of our needs, physical and emotional. In every psychological study I’ve seen, the greatest determining factor in personal happiness is depth in interpersonal relationships. So really, nothing that’s mine is mine alone. Not my money or my stuff, not my food or my body, not my health or my joy. A community built upon this recognition would be the most in concert with sustainable values.
But can we expect ourselves to be like the ḥasid? Can we expect others to be? The word ḥasid is connected to ḥesed, which is usually translated ‘lovingkindness’, but I prefer ‘grace’, which has the connotation of a gift that is given even when completely undeserved. A ḥasid acts ‘lifnim miShurat haDin’ , beyond the letter of the law, in his/her relationship to God and to other people, seeking to do more than is required. ḥesed is when you do something for someone regardless of whether or not they ‘deserve’ your kindness, without even thinking about deserving or undeserving, owing or debt, right or wrong.
It’s understandable why the Hassidic master of Izhbitz connects this to Shmita. Shmita is a picture of the ideal world. The goal is not to get every single person in a community to act in the way you think they ought to act, it’s to bring yourself to a point where you can act a reflection of how you want the world to be, regardless of whether everyone else is on board. To have the trait of the ḥasid is not to give away all of our possessions to the commons and give our efforts continually without surcease. It is to live a life in which even if you give everything you can and others take from you, you can still be ok. You can let it go. You can live the life you think is right and be a beacon of peace and generosity, even if it feels like you are the only one. If we each do this, then we can create communities of shared values which are flexible and inclusive, effective, evolving and progressive.
Thanks all, and happy travels!