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Owning or Owing - Torah.org
Owning vs. Owing
What does "created for me" really mean?
As I was standing in line with my family at the pizza shop, some person
walked in with an air of self-importance. He proceeded to cut in front
of the entire line. "That guy acts like he owns the place," somebody
remarked. As I heard this, I looked behind the counter and saw the man
who actually did own the place. He was working hard and sweating with
all the workers, trying to keep up with the long line of customers. This
scene made me wonder who was actually acting like an owner.
Speaking of ownership, when it comes to the world, the Talmud encourages
each person to have an attitude of owning the place. We should each say
to ourselves "The world was created for me - it's my place." It is a
feeling of being the owner and the boss. Everything else is there to
help me run the place correctly. Why would the Talmud advocate
individuals to have such an egocentric self-image? What gives me the
right to think I am the 'main man'?
The answer lies in an understanding of what it actually means to be the
'main man'. According to some, having power gives you the right to act
however you please. Nobody else deserves any respect or help because
they are inferior and not even worth the time of day. The guy in the
pizza shop 'acting like he owned the place' had no regard for anybody
else in the room. Chances are that if he acted like that and actually
did own a restaurant, it would not be doing too well.
Judaism understands ownership and control differently. Beginning with
the mindset of "the world was created for me" it follows the logic that
this means that everything else is there to serve the one person (the
"me"), and to help that person complete his or her task. However, if
everything else is there to help that one person, than that person has a
tremendous responsibility. He or she must take care of everything that
is around. Since it is there to serve them, their personal success or
failure is intertwined with its success or failure. Therefore, it is in
everybody's best interest (especially the owner's) for the owner to treat
everything with respect. The real owner of the pizza shop understood
that if he wanted his business to succeed, he had to sweat it out and
Power, control and responsibility - they can not be separated.
Ironically, caring about ourselves logically obligates us to care about
others. This is part of what it means when it says that all Jews are
connected. Our roles are deeply interconnected. But it is not just with
all Jews, and not just with all people - our fate is intertwined with
everything that exists in the world. Taking care of animals and the
environment will also help us in completing our own tasks.
In an ideal world, each person would have a sense of pride, ownership,
and responsibility for the world. While it might sound contradictory for
many people to be able to live lives of "the world was created for me"
simultaneously, the truth is that many people embracing this attitude
create a harmony. At that point, the world is enhanced precisely because
everybody is looking out for each other. So we see that rather than
adopting an attitude of self-importance, having power or control means
accountability; it is an obligation to extend out. We are all encouraged
to take on the title 'owner of the world'; but to succeed in the
business, we have to let the customers have the first pizza.