Friday, May 24, 2019

Everything is Borrowed

Ownership is foreign to the religious mindset. Religions in general, and Judaism in particular, teach that everything is instead on loan from God. We are borrowers rather than owners.

This is true with regard to our bodies. Every human being is created in the image of God. All people contain within themselves a spark of God’s holiness. Their bodies are therefore repositories of God’s majesty. The human body is a holy vessel commanding reverence and care.

We are therefore not allowed to do whatever we want to our bodies. We are commanded to take care of them. We are obligated, for example, to eat well and exercise. To do otherwise would be a desecration of this holy vessel. To do otherwise would be to diminish God’s image. To do otherwise would be to shirk our duties and responsibilities.

While abortion is required when the mother’s life is in danger, and while I certainly believe that the mother should have far more say of what she does or does not do with her body than for instance a group of strange men, Judaism does not believe she can, or should, do whatever she wants. The body is to be cared for as if it is a Torah scroll. It is holy and but lent to us.

How we view the issues of the day hinges on the notion of whether or not we see ourselves as owners or borrowers. Better to view ourselves as custodians of a holy vessel. This is why I would suggest that the vast majority of people who nurture the frail and elderly or do the extraordinary work of hospice care are people of profound faith. Nearly all such caregivers are deeply religious.

I have come to learn that such a perspective makes this unimaginably difficult work a fraction lighter.

Such faith should also imbue how we view our possessions. If things are not viewed as earned by our hard work and our talents but instead borrowed from God, then it is likewise far easier to donate an even greater portion of our earnings to those in need. This is what Judaism seeks: a world more giving and therefore more compassionate. How does it inculcate behaviors that bring such a world closer to fruition? By teaching that everything is borrowed.

Even the land of Israel is not viewed as ours, but instead belongs to God. This is why this week we read about the sabbatical year in which the land must lie fallow on the seventh year. Land ownership is foreign to the religious mindset. A mortgage is not taken out from a bank but instead from God.

And this comes to teach that there is room not just for me, or even us, but everyone—on any land. We are stewards of the earth and tenants on God’s land.

The Torah proclaims: “The land is Mine; and you are but strangers resident with Me.” (Leviticus 25) Even the Jewish people are deemed strangers on their ancestral land.

That is the worldview that promotes more room for others. That is the mindset that inculcates the drive to share far more with neighbors. That is the perspective that teaches that we cannot do whatever we want when we want—even with our own bodies.

Imagine a world where we view everything as but lent to us. Imagine a world where there is more for everyone.

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