Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Middat Sedom

By: Rabbi Ari Enkin

The Torah and codes warn us against following in the wicked ways of the ancient Sodomites.[1] Although the Sodomites were known for an entire plethora of evil behaviors, it was their disregard for the simple courteous cooperation of "Zeh Nehene V'zeh Lo Chaser", (lit: "This one can benefit without loss to the other") which our sages specifically single out by name. The residents of Sedom refused to perform favors to help one another even when doing so would cause no trouble to themselves.[2] Consequently, the sages decreed that in many situations of "Zeh Nehene V'zeh Lo Chaser" we can compel the recalcitrant party to comply. Also related to Middat Sedom is the unacceptable attitude of "What's mine is mine".[3]

Click here to read moreAmong the many proverbial "Aesop's Fables" is one titled "The Dog and the Manger" which illustrates the idea of Middat Sedom quite nicely. As the story goes, there was once a dog that lay down to sleep in a manger. Upon awakening, he viciously prevented the cattle in the farm from eating any of the hay on which he had slept, even though he was unable and uninterested in eating it himself. As the ox then appropriately quipped: "People often begrudge others what they cannot enjoy themselves." Similarly, in the "Charlie Brown" cartoon series is an episode where Lucy acquires Charlie Brown's favorite baseball card but refuses to give it to him. After teasing and taunting Charlie Brown extensively over the card, Lucy then decides that she doesn't really like the card and subsequently throws it away moments after a broken Charlie Brown leaves the scene.

A well known Talmudic example of "Zeh Nehene" is a case where brothers were to divide land which was bequeathed to them by their father. It turned out that one of the brothers currently owned land adjacent to the territory now being divided and therefore requested that his portion be from that which is closest to his field in order to allow for greater territorial continuity. Our sages teach us that we are to honor such a request and we can compel the division to be executed in this manner "as refusing to do so is reminiscent of the ways of Sedom".[4]

According to some authorities the prohibition to behave in the ways of Sedom is a rabbinical prohibition[5] while other authorities insist that it is far more serious and actually biblically forbidden.[6] In addition, there are a number of explicit biblical verses which clearly convey the Torah's disapproval of such conduct.[7] Next time someone asks you for a favor or a decision must be made on lending or sharing, make sure the issue of "Zeh Nehene V'zeh Lo Chaser" is weighed in on your decision.


[1] Bava Kamma 20, Bava Batra 12b, C.M. 174:1, 363:6-8
[2] Ketubot 103a
[3] Eruvin 49a;Rashi
[4] Bava Batra 12b
[5] Ritzba;Tosfot Bava Batra 12b
[6] Rabbeinu Tam;Tosfot Bava Batra 12b
[7] Vayikra 19:19, Devarim 6:18, 12:28, 16:20

Twitter Delicious Facebook Digg Favorites More