Rebbe Elazar Ish Bartuta says, “Give Him from what is His because you and yours are His.
As it says regarding Dovid, “Because all is from You and from Your Hand we give to You.’’ (Avot 3:7)
The Torah begins with the story of Creation, not just because our world begins there historically but also because it starts there philosophically. Hashem’s creation of the world is the backdrop to the Jewish view of the world and of ourselves.
Rav Elazar Ish Bartuta encourages us to “tein lo mishelo she’atah v’shelcha shelo” (give G-d what is His, because you and that which is yours are His). Tehillim 24 explains that the world is Hashem’s because He created it: “LaHashem ha’aretz u’meloah teivel v’yoshvei vah – The land and the fullness thereof are the L-rd’s; the world and those who dwell therein… Ki hu al yamim yisadah v’al neharot yichonenehah – For He founded it upon the seas and established it upon rivers.”
How We Get What We Have
This pasuk speaks of Hashem’s ownership over three distinct components of our world. The first is the framework: the land (aretz) and the universe (teivel). Later in Avot, the Mishnah identifies shamayim and aretz as one of Hashem’s five possessions.
The verse also mentions Hashem’s ownership of the second component – the world’s contents (meloah). During the first three days of creation, Hashem created the containers; during the last three, he created their contents. People often see money and other objects – the meloah of the world – as their own; actually, they are owned by Hashem, their Creator.
There is another basis for Hashem’s ownership. The verse in Mishlei directs us to honor Hashem “mei’honecha – from your wealth.” The Midrash Tanchuma reads the word “honecha” as “chininecha” – the gifts G-d graces us with. We ought to recognize that in addition to creating all objects, Hashem is also responsible for specific objects being in our possession.
This connects to the Midrash Rabbah, which quotes Hashem as saying:
“Who gives Me praise before I give him the neshamah which allows him to give me praise? Who sings my praise before I give him a son to sing about? Who builds a parapet on a roof before I give him a roof? Who puts a mezuzah up before I give him a home? … Who separates a korban before I give him the animal?”
Sometimes we take what we have for granted and, therefore, don’t always show appreciation for Hashem who created them and gives them to us.
A question remains. What is Rav Elazar Ish Bartuta adding when he says that we should give G-d what is His? Dovid Hamelech already made this very point in the pasuk Rav Elazar himself quotes: “Because it is all from You and from your hand we give to You.”
I believe that Rav Elazar Ish Bartuta’s chiddush in saying “She’ata v’shelcha shelo – Give Him from what is His because you and yours are His,” lies in the word “you.” It is not just the world and its contents that are Hashem’s, but we are as well. We should “give Hashem what is His” not only because the objects are His, but because we, the “owners,” are also His. As the Gemara in Pesachim says: “That which a servant acquires, his master acquires.”
This is the critical point of the first chapters of Iyov. G-d challenges Satan to see if he can get Iyov to sin. Despite Satan destroying all of Iyov’s possessions, Iyov responds nobly: “Hashem gives and Hashem takes away. May his name be blessed.” In the second chapter, Satan asks Hashem for permission to strike Iyov’s health. After Hashem gives him the OK and he does so, Iyov curses the day he was born.
Iyov, and people in general, naturally take existence and good health for granted. In truth, we are created and sustained by G-d. We should therefore see ourselves as His as well.
This is the third component of the aforementioned pasuk: “… tevel v’yoshvei vah.” It is not only the land and its contents, but also its residents, that belong to Hashem.
All three elements – land, possessions, and our very selves are what we are referring to in the first beracha of Shemoneh Esrei when we describe Hashem as the owner of all. We turn to Hashem in prayer with the recognition that we are His and gratitude for His having created us.
Next week, we will see how this perspective should impact our appreciation of everything we encounter in G-d’s world.