רַבִּי אֶלְעָזָר אִישׁ בַּרְתּוּתָא אוֹמֵר, תֶּן לוֹ מִשֶּׁלּוֹ, שֶׁאַתָּה וְשֶׁלָּךְ שֶׁלּוֹ.
וְכֵן בְּדָוִד הוּא אוֹמֵר (דברי הימים א כט) כִּי מִמְּךָ הַכֹּל וּמִיָּדְךָ נָתַנּוּ לך. (אבות ג:ז)
Rebbi Elazar Ish Bartuta encourages us to “give Him (Hashem) what is His, because you and that which is yours are really His.” When we donate our money, time or effort to Hashem, we naturally assume that we are giving Him something that is our own (see Chagai 2:8). In truth, we are merely giving Him what is already His (see Vayikra 25:23, where this idea is reflected by our inability to sell land beyond yovel). This is why Hashem formulates the donations to the Mishkan as “vayikchu li terumah,” (Shemot 25:2). It is Hashem taking what is His—not the Jewish people giving a donation.
Ownership Through Creation
Why do our possessions belong to Hashem? The simplest explanation is that Hashem’s ownership is rooted in His creation of the world and all of its content. The Torah begins with the story of Creation not just because our world begins there historically, but also because it starts there philosophically. The creation narrative helps us appreciate where everything we see came from and (thus), who their true owner is.
This is how Rashi begins his commentary to the Torah. He explains that the Torah begins with the creation narrative, rather than with the first mitzvah, to teach us where our rights to Eretz Yisrael come from. The response to those who call our settlement of Israel thievery is that Hashem created and (thus) owns the world and gives lands to the nations he chooses.
Our appreciation of this idea—Hashem’s creation and, thus, ownership—is a critical part of our hashkafa. We express it by reciting brachot—all of which speak of Hashem’s role as creator—before deriving pleasure from His world. Our recognition of Hashem as creator permits us to partake of and enjoy His creations (Brachot 35b).
We reaffirm our recognition of this idea each yom rishon (which parallels the first day of creation) when we recite the pesukim: “LaHashem ha’aretz u’meloah teivel v’yoshvei vah. Ki hu al yamim yisadah v’al neharot yichonenehah,” in the shir shel yom (Tehillim 24:1-2, 104:24). The pesukim assert Hashem’s ownership over two distinct components of the world: the frameworks (aretz and teivel) and the content (meloah and yoshvei vah). During the first three days of creation, Hashem created the frameworks; during the last three, He filled them with content and inhabitants. Later in Avot (6:10), “shamayim” and “aretz” are identified as one of Hashem’s five kinyanim.
How We Get What We Have
The midrash bases Hashem’s ownership on a second factor. In addition to His creation, Hashem is the one who gifts us with what we have. We mistakenly think that we acquire our possessions “on our own.” In truth, it is Hashem who facilitates our acquisition. The midrash explains that Hashem, therefore, “owes” no one for the mitzvot they perform. We are only able to post mezuzot on the doorposts of our homes and separate tithes from the crops of our fields after Hashem gifts the homes and fields to us (Vayikra Rabbah, Achrei Mot 27:2, based on Iyov 41:3)
Similarly, the midrash (Tanchuma Re’eh 14) reads the word “honcha,” (Misheli 3:9) simply translated as “your wealth,” as “chininecha”—the gifts with which Hashem graces us. We ought to view our acquisition of wealth and property as emanating from Hashem’s good graces.
These midrashim remind us that our possessions belong to Hashem—not only because He created them, but also because He arranges for us to attain them.
As a prooftext for his teaching, Rebbi Elazar Ish Bartuta quotes the words of Dovid HaMelech: “Because it is all from You and from Your hand we give to You,” (Divrei Hayamim I, 29:10-16). Dovid HaMelech clarified to those collecting money for the building of the Beit Hamikdash that their “donations” were merely returning what Hashem owns to Him.
As Dovid HaMelech already taught this idea, what did Rebbi Elazar Ish Bartuta add? I believe that the answer lies in his usage of the word “atah.” It is not just the world and its contents that are Hashem’s, but we are as well. What we “own” is actually owned by Hashem not only because the objects are His, but because we—the “owners”—are also His creations and, thus, also owned by Him. As the Gemara in Pesachim (88b) teaches: “What a servant acquires is (automatically) acquired by his master.”
Our very lives and bodies are not our own. They and we belong to Hashem—their creator. This is why we are prohibited from damaging our bodies (Ta’anit 22b, Mishna Torah Hilchot Chovel u’Mazik 5:1) and are charged with the responsibility of safeguarding them (Devarim 4:9,15. See also Mishna Torah Hilchot Sanhedrin 26:3). Hashem is our creator and, thus, the owner of our bodies and lives; as we express in Selichot: “Haneshama lach v’haguf pa’alach … ”
Hashem’s ownership of us is also included in the aforementioned pesukim we recite on yom rishon: “LaHashem ha’aretz u’meloah teivel v’yoshvei vah.” It is not only the land and its contents—but also, its residents—that belong to Hashem.
Hashem’s far-reaching ownership is what we refer to in the first bracha of Shemoneh Esrei when we describe Hashem as “konei hakol—the owner of all,” (see Bereishit 14:19). We turn to Hashem in prayer as His creations, who are grateful for His having created us.
The Goal of It All
The Ramban saw our recognition of this fact as the goal of creation, all of the mitzvot, and all of our tefilot: “The goal of all the mitzvot is for us to believe in our God and admit that (/thank Him for) He created us.” This is the goal of creation. We have no other reason for the initial creation, because God above has no desire for a world below—besides man knowing and thanking His God for creating him.
The goal of raising our voices in prayer, the goal of shuls and the merit of the prayers of the masses is for people to have a place where they can gather and thank Hashem, publicize the fact that God created them, and say before Him, “We are your creations.”
We express this appreciation in the tefillah of u’vah l’tzion: “Baruch elokeinu shebira’anu lichvodo v’hivdilanu min hatoim, v’natan lanu Torat emet, v’chayei olam nata b’tocheinu—Blessed is our God who created us for His honor, separated us from the wanderers, gave us a true Torah and implanted eternal life within us.”
Appreciating Our Lives
Sadly, we often take our lives for granted and forget that they are “God-given.” Iyov is an example of someone who made this mistake. Though Iyov maintained his faith even after the loss of his children and possessions (Iyov 1:21), he faltered when he lost his health (Iyov 3:1). Iyov recognized his children and property as “God-given,” but saw his health as his. When Hashem allowed Satan to take his health away, Iyov felt that a line had been crossed.
Iyov—and people in general—take existence and good health for granted. In truth, we should appreciate that we are created and sustained by Hashem. This point was made by Yirmiyahu HaNavi in sefer Eichah, when he asks those complaining about their suffering “why a living person should complain?” The midrash (Eichah Rabbah 3:13) explains that one who appreciates Hashem’s gift of life does not complain about his circumstances. We should appreciate the gift of life and know that the God who gives us life is a good God, who has our best interests in mind.
The Kuzari (3:17) saw this as the deeper significance of the Shehecheyanu bracha. One who attributes their continued existence to Hashem’s good graces and thanks Him for it will have an easier time dealing with inevitable sickness and death.
In addition to the Shehecheyanu bracha, we express this appreciation with the words of “Modeh Ani” we recite each morning upon opening our eyes. Though not yet able to mention Hashem’s name before washing our hands, we immediately recognize and thank Him for reviving us. After we wash our hands, we repeat and elaborate upon this fact and mention Hashem by name in the bracha of “Elokai Neshama.” We also commit ourselves to continuing to express our appreciation of Hashem as creator and owner as long as our soul remains within us: “kol zeman shehaneshama b’kirbi … ”
We determine our perspective on life the moment we awaken. Many take this moment for granted. Missing the opportunity to remind themselves of their creator leads them to view their existence as random and meaningless. By reciting Modeh Ani and Elokai Neshamah, we—in contrast—internalize the fact that Hashem has recreated us. We understand that we are Hashem’s creatures—placed here by Him for particular purposes and missions—we aim to accomplish in the course of each day of the lives He grants us.
May the words of Rebbi Elazar Ish Bartuta remind us of what we are and where we come from, and help us appreciate our own existence and its purpose.
In our next piece, we will, iy”H, see how this perspective should impact our appreciation of everything we encounter in God’s world.
*Written up by Yedidyah Rosenwasser and Rafi Davis
Rabbi Reuven Taragin is the dean of overseas students at Yeshivat HaKotel.