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Home » Life Is Beautiful, Mishpatim

Mishpatim: Why Should I?

Submitted by on February 18, 2017 – 8:58 pmNo Comment | 2,710 views

The Big Question

A young lady asked me why she should obey G-d’s many instructions in the Torah. She understands that without G-d she would not exist and feels that she owes it to him, but she feels that G-d forced her into this bargain without asking her. Why did He do this and why should she agree?

I explained that I understand the question of” why should I”, but I think that in life it is important to move from “why should I” to “why I should”. I gave her the example of a person asked to donate a kidney to a fellow in need. His first question is, why should I? If he didn’t feel that way, at least a little, I would be concerned for his sanity. But if he didn’t move from “why should I” to “why I should,” I would be concerned for his humanity.

First, he says, I never asked to be this fellow’s match or for him to be in need. I’d rather keep both my kidneys, thank you very much, and I resent the suggestion that I’m selfish. Then he rethinks and realizes that though he has a point from the perspective of self, he has a chance to become greater than self. If he does this, a part of him will live in the other, and his kidneys will keep two people alive. Himself and his other’s self. This is greater than self and that is why he should.

When G-d tells us how He wants us to live, He is presenting us with an opportunity to become part of Him. To become larger than self. To play a role in His cosmic plan for creation. To be part of eternity, part of infinity, part of G-d! You ask, why should I, I tell you why you should.

Four Custodians

The Torah speaks of four custodians, each with a different degree of liability. There are unpaid custodians, whose sole motive is to benefit the owner. There are paid custodians, who guard it for the owner’s sake, but, who are remunerated for their efforts. There are renters, who take possession for their own benefit, but pay for the privilege. Then there are the borrowers, whose exclusive motive is self-gain; the owner gains nothing.

The unpaid custodians and the borrowers are at the poles. The former’s sole interest is the owner’s gain. The latter’s sole interest is self-gain. The paid custodians and renters are in between. Both of their arrangements are mutually beneficial to the custodian and to the owner.

Liability should always be proportionally inverse to benefit. Unpaid custodians, whose custodianship is exclusively for the owner’s sake, carry the least liability. Borrowers, whose custodianship is entirely to their benefit carry the most liability. Paid custodians and renters are in between. Since they benefit from their custodianship, they carry more liability than unpaid custodians, but since the owner also benefits, they carry less liability than borrowers.[1]

Global Custodians

G-d created the world and appointed us, it’s custodians. We guard over the world through prayer, Torah study and observance of the commandments. In this merit the world is preserved. Furthermore, in this merit, the world becomes holy and G-d’s plan for creation is realized.[2]

There are four kinds of custodians. Unpaid custodians ask for nothing in return. They view serving G-d as a privilege. Permeated with love for G-d, they feel that to do something for Him is the greatest reward. Paid custodians are happy to do G-d’s bidding, but if they are going to work hard, they want to receive something in return. A good life, a nice house, a happy family, etc.

Then come the renters. Their primary interest is living a good life, having a nice home, a happy family etc. But that they realize that to receive all the above, they need to do something for G-d. So, they happily pay for their reward by doing all the things that G-d asks of the Jew. There is a subtle, yet significant distinction between the paid custodian and the renter. The former works for G-d, but seeks remuneration. The latter works for himself, but is willing to pay for it.

Then come the borrowers. They, like the young lady from the beginning of this essay, want a good life and don’t want to pay for it. They never asked to be born and if G-d chose to bring them into this world, the very least He can do, is provide them with a good life. As G-d’s children, borrowers demand that G-d provide for them as a parent for a child. G-d does not turn these borrowers down. There is an entire category in the Torah for the borrower. One is permitted to enter into an arrangement that is exclusively self beneficial. And if we may do this with our fellow, we may do it with G-d.

However, once borrowers receive what they seek, they are completely liable. When they receive a loan from G-d, they must treat it as a Divine loan should be treated. When G-d provides us with a home, we must use it in a G-dly way, otherwise the home loses its G-dliness and its spirituality is damaged. When G-d provides us with money, we must use it in ways that G-d would approve, otherwise the money is spiritually compromised. Although G-d extends the loan with no strings attached, we are expected to return it at life’s end with its holiness and spirituality intact.

There is a subtle, yet important difference between borrowers and renters. Renters believe that they should serve G-d to get what they want, borrowers believe that they are entitled. Thus, renters pay for what they receive with Torah and Mitzvot. Borrowers receive for free; their Torah and Mitzvot merely preserve what they received.

The Scale

The four custodians are not distinctive categories; they comprise a scale, a growing curve, that moves us from “why should I” to “why I should”.

From birth through toddlerhood we are borrowers: all we do is receive, with marry a thought of giving back. We must obey the rules, but beyond those rules, we receive for free. In childhood and teenage years, we become renters; we learn that to reach our benchmarks, we must invest effort. If we want to succeed, we must work hard. In marriage, we transition from self to other and start thinking about how to be of service. At first, we are happy to serve so long as we are also served. I will make my spouse happy, is my spouse will make me happy. Ultimately, we reach a stage where making our spouse happy, makes us happy. The effort, is the reward. We no longer ask, “why should I”, we say “why I should”.

If this is true in our relationship with others, it is certainly true in our relationship with G-d.[3]

[1] Accordingly, unpaid custodians are only liable for damages caused by negligence. Borrowers are liable for damages caused by circumstances beyond their control such as armed robbery. Short of endangering themselves, there is little they can do to prevent such theft and though they aren’t expected to endanger themselves, they remain liable because of the conditions of their arrangement. Paid custodians and renters are in between. They are liable for theft and loss even if they behaved responsibly and weren’t negligent, but they aren’t liable for damages caused by circumstances beyond their control. See Exodus 22 6:14 and Babylonian Talmud, Baba Metziah 93a.

[2] Genesis  2:15. Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 88a.

[3] This essay is based on Likutei Sichos v. 31 pp. 112 – 118.

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