(Painting by Dina Zylberberg)
From The Breslov Pirkey Avot (Breslov Research Institute), Chapter 5, Mishnah 10
שֶׁלִּי שֶׁלָּךְ וְשֶׁלְּךָ שֶׁלִּי, עַם הָאָרֶץ. שֶׁלִּי שֶׁלָּךְ וְשֶׁלְּךָ שֶׁלָּךְ, חָסִיד. שֶׁלִּי שֶׁלִּי וְשֶׁלְּךָ שֶׁלִּי, רָשָׁע:
There are four types of people. The one who says, “What is mine is mine, and what is yours is yours” – this is the average character type, although some say that this is a trait of Sodom. The one who says, “What is mine is yours, and what is yours is mine” – this is an unlearned man. The one who says, “What is mine is yours, and what is yours is yours” – this is a pious person. The one who says, “What is yours is mine, and what is mine is mine” – this is a wicked person.
Digest of Commentaries:
The one who says, “What is mine is mine, and what is yours is yours” - this is the average character type, although some say that this is a trait of Sodom. The citizens of Sodom were notorious for their selfishness, spurning the needy even when they had ample resources to spare (Sanhedrin 109a). Thus the Talmud considers one who is unwilling to benefit others, even at no cost to himself, as akin to a native of Sodom (Eruvin 49a). This view does not compete with the concept of private property; rather, it maintains that the ethic of self-sufficiency can easily lead to disregard for the unfortunate, even when it is well within one’s means to extend a helping hand (Bartenura).
Alternately: This characterization applies to a person who gives charity only out of a sense of religious duty, as opposed to one who gives in a spirit of true compassion. Insensitivity to another’s plight invites the comparison to Sodom (Rabbenu Yonah).
The one who says, “What is mine is yours, and what is yours is mine” - this is an unlearned man. Some commentators explain the term am ha-aretz (“unlearned man”) in the familiar sense, as one ignorant of Torah, who is therefore incapable of making proper judgments that would lead to the improvement of civilization (Rashi; Bartenura). Others interpret it differently. One opinion says that am ha’aretz refers to a person who takes what belongs to others without shame (Rashi). Still another opinion understands this term as referring to the average member of society who wishes to promote reciprocity and goodwill, but fails to appreciate that the Torah holds up a higher ideal – namely, that of “a pious person” (Meiri; Rabbenu Yonah; Tiferet Yisrael).
The one who says, “What is mine is yours, and what is yours is yours” - this is a pious person. He does not wish to benefit from others, but willingly lets others profit from what is his and acts benevolently toward all.
The one who says, “What is yours is mine, and what is mine is mine” - this is a wicked person. He is completely caught up in self-serving desires.
The Fur Peltz
Once there was a poor Chassid who used to stand in the open marketplace all day long selling salted fish from a barrel. Naturally, during the long, bitterly cold Ukrainian winters, he needed a warm overcoat. But all he owned was an old fur peltz so tattered and worn that it was virtually useless. Without a winter coat, he would not be able to earn even his customarily meager living. Therefore he approached one of the elder Chassidim for advice.
“Go to the village of Terhovitza,” the equally impoverished sage told him, “and look for a Breslover Chassid named Reb Sender. He will help you.”
The man found a ride to the nearby village and soon met Reb Sender. A cloth merchant in his youth, Reb Sender had been introduced to Rebbe Nachman’s teachings through several of Reb Noson’s followers while visiting Uman on business many years earlier. Now he was the Rav of the Breslov shul in Terhovitza. After warmly receiving his guest, Reb Sender asked what prompted his visit. With great emotion, the unhappy fellow poured forth his plight.
“Don’t worry,” Reb Sender said encouragingly. “Everything will be taken care of tonight.”
In the early evening, the Breslov shul filled with men who regularly studied together before reciting the evening prayer. To judge by appearances, they were men of all ages and from all walks of life. But the visitor immediately sensed the comradeship that existed between both seasoned scholars and simple tradesmen as they sat down to their studies.
The weekday evening service in the Terhovitza shul was prayed with such intensity as one might have expected only on Yom Kippur. And the dance that followed lifted its participants far beyond all earthly concerns as their voices joined together in song.
Reb Sender and his fellow Chassidim had a most unusual custom. Before the dance, they would put their wallets on the table in the middle of the room. Reb Sender, being in charge of the congregation’s charity fund, was expected to take whatever was needed for any holy cause that might have been brought to his attention.
This time Reb Sender took enough money to buy their needy guest a new winter coat and a pair of boots, plus enough cash to help him invest in a more profitable line of merchandise.
After the grateful Chassid returned home, Reb Sender remarked, “A fur coat has thousands of hairs. But if only one hair from this fellow’s peltz accompanies me when I stand before the Heavenly court, my entire life on earth will have been worthwhile!”
How much humility was expressed in Reb Sender’s words! Here was a Chassid who could recite Likutey Tefilot (Reb Noson’s prayers) for six hours at a stretch with a broken heart, and who denied himself all worldly comforts. Yet only for an act of kindness to a fellow Jew did he consider himself the least bit meritorious! (based on a story preserved by Rabbi Yaakov Dov, Oneg Shabbat, appendix).