To the best of my knowledge, imposed profit-sharing is something that negates the spirit of the Torah and reminds of the prohibition “you shall not glorify a poor man in his lawsuit” (Shemos 23:3). People own what they own because of their efforts and investment, not because of their social and financial status. Justice works both ways, all are equal before the law.
But there is one instance when the Torah does decree profit-sharing; that is when both parties involved indeed invested equal resources. Let’s open up tractate Bava Metziah and read from the beginning.
Tractate Bava Metziah (“the middle gate”), as its very name connotes, is the second part of a three-volume law book discussing the laws governing monetary matters.
The first focuses on liability for damages, and the third discusses partnerships and inter-neighbor relationships, both matters in which the ownership of the property already exists and may need to be sorted out. The second part begins with the laws of establishing ownership over objects. And the first chapter discusses cases in which a legitimate dispute exists over the ownership of the same object.
In this installment of “the Talmud of the soul” we will draw some parallels between how the Mishna and Talmud address the question of shnayim ochazin b’talis and its spiritual meaning in mentor-pupil relationships, a classical example of divinely imposed profit-sharing.
The first chapter of Bava Metzia begins with describing a case of disputed ownership:
“Two people hold on to a garment; one declares “I have found it!” and the other declares “I have found it!”; One says “it is entirely mine!” and the other says “it is entirely mine!”
When the two appear before the court, the Mishnah teaches, the ruling should be thus:
“The first shall swear that he owns no less than half of it, and the second should swear he owns no less than half of it and they shall proceed to divide it.”
The Gemara spends the remainder of the page and some on the next to discuss the rather complex wording of the Mishnah which seems redundant: if I exclusively found it then only I own it, why put two sentences with identical meaning into the litigants’ mouth? After the Gemara settles that question by concluding that “finding” alone, in the terms used by ordinary people, doesn’t constitute possessing an item from a legal perspective, since one can “find” with his eyes, yet as long as it doesn’t enter his possession it isn’t his, the Gemara presents a much simpler and memorable version of the dispute without dividing the litigant’s claims to fractions:
“One declares “I have found it and it is entirely mine!” and the other declares “I have found it and it is entirely mine!”
The conclusion of the discussion is that the Mishnah, in that the seemingly fractured sentence is addressing two separate cases. The first is a dispute over a found garment while the second applies to a dispute over a purchased garment.
The principle of Torah law regarding possession of property is that if one has invested either money or time into something according to the terms stipulated by the previous owner, that object or property becomes his; he exchanged one resource G-d has given him for another. How about if you didn’t invest anything of yourself to acquire that property? If that item is unowned, you have the right to take possession of it; G-d sent you a free gift, enjoy!
Not only possessions of material property works under these rules, also our possession of spiritual accomplishments do: in general, “when one toils does he find success,” but at times a person finds a “metziah” – he accomplishes a far greater measure than his investment of time and talents. This is clearly a gift from Heaven.
Interestingly, the terminology of this Mishna, “two who hold on to a garment” (which is rarely used in the beginning of a topic) implies that this is a common, regular occurrence. Not “if two were holding…” or “when two were holding…” but simply “two who hold…”
When looking at this Mishnah from a spiritual perspective this makes a lot of sense:
Whether our spiritual accomplishments are ones we toiled for or if we were blessed with unearned Divine inspiration, there forever will be a dispute over its “ownership.” To whom does the credit and Divine reward over our good deeds belong to?
Any person, even if he is diligent and soft-natured by birth, still is not excluded from the Torah’s assessment that “man is born a wild donkey” (Iyov 12:11) and thus requires education and mentorship to go in the right path. Even after his formal education, man remains a social being and must choose to live in a social environment which promotes a disciplined way of life.
Taking this into consideration, one can never claim all the credit for his good deeds; were he not been educated by a teacher and mentor he would remain a wild beast!
So the credit for man’s spiritual accomplishments always remains a matter of dispute between him and his mentor. His mentor says “whether it was gift from heaven or his own efforts that generated this good deed, without my direction he would never make it!” The pupil, however, claims that with all the appreciation due to his mentor, “it is my own life and my own accomplishments and the credit goes to no one but me!”
While from a legal perspective this dispute is obviously not limited to a garment, it can be a plank of wood or a bag of apples. The Mishna’s use of the example of a garment isn’t coincidental. The said spiritual meaning of this Mishnah as it applies to one’s spiritual life explains this:
Food, unlike an article of clothing, enters a person and becomes a part of him; a garment, by contrast, while being “his” and providing him with valuable warmth and dignity, will forever remain an object separate from him.
The Torah is compared to food, “Your Torah is in my innards” (Tehilim 40:9), Mitzvos are compared to garments (Rashi on Zechariah 3:3-4). The reason being is that Mitzvos are acts of service and serve as a medium of connecting to G-d in His terms by doing His will; Torah, by contrast, is a medium of connecting to G-d by studying, analyzing and rationally understanding G-d’s wisdom in our brain. When one understands another’s idea, it becomes part of him although it was originated by another.
The mentor’s argument that credit for his pupil’s accomplishments is due to him, applies primarily to Mitzvos, to “garments,” for two reasons: firstly, the concepts of Torah that one grasps, even under direction of a teacher and mentor, are undeniably his; these ideas became part of his personality and thought process. Secondly, a mentor’s job in developing his pupil’s character is not to create new traits, rather he is expected to cultivate and develop the ones he already has. Even a wise student will surely benefit from direction and teaching, but it isn’t the teacher who made him wise…
No mentor can claim the credit for internalized accomplishments; those obviously belong solely to the pupil. The argument can only be made regarding external accomplishments, i.e., the skill to overcome temptation and laziness and do what is right and refrain from doing what is undesirable in the eyes of G-d and man.
Since this trait is something no one is born with, it is something which must be acquired. The mentor is the one who gave this skill of self-control to his pupil. He therefore claims the credit and reward for it. After all, the pupil accomplished these good deeds with a tool that belongs to the mentor…
The ruling is that both litigants must swear that they own no less than half of it.
The concept of Shvu’ah, swearing, is a very interesting one: the Torah tells us that when two people have a monetary dispute and there is no way of proving either one’s case with witnesses or documents, the defendant must swear by G-d’s name that he is saying the truth. Now, if he was lying until now, what will stop him from swearing falsely?
The answer is that that people find it easier to falsify facts as long as they don’t have to swear to them. We assume that even someone who is ready to make false declarations will back off if he will be required to swear to it.
The reason being that swearing invokes the inner connection between a Jew and G-d which puts him back to the natural state of being of a Jewish person, one in which “he is ready to do all the Mitzvos and isn’t prepared to transgress G-d’s will in any sin.” If one maintains his position even under oath, we accept his words as an established truth.
Usually, only one party is required to take oath, the defendant, but in this case, since not one of them had previous ownership over the object — they both found it together or attempted to buy it together –, they both may be saying the truth and they must both take an oath to prove that.
So an oath is a form of reaching into one’s inner self and discovering a more idealistic person who is obviously more trustworthy. And in the spiritual dispute between man and his mentor over the credit and reward for one’s deeds, the idea of the oath plays out as follows:
The fact that the mentor indeed assisted the pupil in attaining spiritual accomplishments is indisputable, but his motifs may be under question: one can rebuke another’s wrong-doing either out of care for him or just because the rebuke-giver is bad-natured and likes to find faults in others. When the mentor “takes oath” he is asked to declare that his motives in educating his pupil were out of love and care for him, not for anything else. If he does so we can indefinitely conclude that indeed half of the credit is due to him.
The rebuked pupil, who undisputedly was inspired by his mentor’s rebuke to alter his behavior, could have done so in two ways: either he takes the rebuke to heart and his deeds now reflect a newer understanding of his duties in life, or he may just superficially act on the rebuke out of shame or out of fear of punishment. In the case of the latter, this entire good deed was propelled by his mentor and his personality has no part of it.
If, however, he will take oath and declare that “I did what I did out of conviction and regret of my wronging’s,” we will believe him.
If they both take the oath, and we find that the mentor who rebuked did so from his heart, and the rebuked pupil took to heart, then just as the deed was a result of shared efforts, so too shall the reward for it be shared by both.
This idea originates from a teaching of the Ba’al Shem Tov, and was elaborated on by the Lubavitcher Rebbe in a talk to Yeshivah students in the fall of 5702 (1941). This article is just a summary of the original treatise which covers many more topics and brilliantly shows the correlation between the “revealed” and the “inner” and how each compliments the other in understanding both the law and the psychology of the Jewish soul.
In this series entitled “The Talmud of the soul” we will draw parallels between how the Mishna and Talmud address the events of life taking place around us, and how we can use this Divine information to take tips to address life questions inside us. This form of learning can take ideas that most of us only know from the books and turn them into real life events going on in our personal Jewish life.