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Thought for the Day: Protecting HaShem's Investment In You

A coworker stopped by and and asked if I knew where so-and-so (yet another coworker) sat.  I did and offered to show him rather than just explaining.  As we were walking he told me how nice I was to be doing this.  I, ever (falsely) modest, demurred that I need the exercise anyway.  "Ah," he noted, "so you are selfish."  I had no quip for that; it's essentially true.

There's a concept in halacha know as "zeh ne'he'neh v'zeh lo chahser"; literally: this one benefits and this one does not suffer a loss.  A classic example is where Ruvein has an unused apartment that he never rents out and has no guests who needs it now.  If Yehuda occupies the apartment, even without permission from Ruvein, he does not owe any rent for his use of the apartment.  Obviously, derech eretz demands that Yehuda get permission (and derech eretz kadma la'torah), but Yehuda lives there rent free, nonetheless.  Of course, if Ruvein usually rents out that apartment, then Yehuda is obligated to pay the normal nightly/weekly/monthly rate; we are talking about a case where Ruvein really has not lost any business nor even business opportunities.

More than that, Chazal note that there is a real benefit to having the apartment occupied; vacant apartments deteriorate over time.  Either because occupants will take care of normal upkeep, or because there is a malicious spirit who attacks empty dwellings; shades of Paranomal Activity (yes, pun intended).

Another name for this halacha is "kofin al midas S'dom" -- forcing/coercing someone not to engage in the root cause of evil in S'dom.  What's the root cause of everything bad you've heard about S'dom?  Being stingy with your stuff even when you suffer no loss and even prevent deterioration by allowing others to use your stuff; ie, selfishness on steroids.  Probably not what you thought.  Which is precisely why you need Chazal and their penetrating analysis.  (Honesty requires me to note that there is a machlokes about whether "kofin al midas S'dom" is the same as "zeh ne'he'neh v'zeh lo chahser".  The discussion, however, is only about how much force/coercion can be applied, but everyone agrees that is midas S'dom.)

It may come as a surprise, therefore, that Ruvein owes Yehuda money, then Yehuda should not help out Ruvein by occupying his empty apartment and thus preventing deterioration (Bava Kama 97a).  Why not?  Because people might think that Ruvein is letting Yehuda use his apartment because Yehuda lent him money -- and that looks like ribis/interest.  It's not ribis at all, but it looks like it.  So that means Yehuda shouldn't help out his friend Ruvein because it looks like Yehuda is involved with an issur?  Yehuda should be more careful with his own level of spirituality than with Ruvein's property?

Yes.  Yehuda has no right to sacrifice his level of spirituality, because it's not his to sacrifice.  We an all we are belong to HaShem, and one may not be religious on HaShem's tab.  So I wasn't being selfish when showed my coworker the way.  I was being careful with the Master's property.


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