The people of Sodom were very wicked and sinful against God.
This verse refers to the monetary transgressions of the Sodomites.(1) The
people of Sodom, living in a self-sufficient community, legislated that no
outsiders be allowed in their country, for they felt that they stood to
lose from the presence of outsiders.(2) Their stinginess festered, to the
point that they covered the tops of the trees to prevent the birds from
eating their fruit.(3) Eventually this developed into total disregard for
the needs of others, even the needy among their own people.(4)
One day a young woman in Sodom met a friend beside a well and saw that she
was suffering from starvation. The government of Sodom had forbidden
anyone to give charity, so the woman sent her friend some food secretly.
When the authorities discovered what the woman had done they burned her
alive. The cries of this woman reached God, and it was then that He
decreed that Sodom be completely annihilated.(5)
Our Sages, recognizing the dangers inherent in stinginess, wrote that
anyone who says, “What’s mine is mine and what’s yours is yours,” shares
this personality trait with the people of Sodom (Midath Sodom).(6) The
only proper attitude about anything that God is the true Owner of all
property, and He has told us to share our belongings with others. Someone
whose attitude is “What’s mine is mine…” shows that he does not subscribe
to this principle, and is moving toward total denial of Divine sovereignty.
(7) The halachah, therefore, is that kofe b’midath Sodom – we totally
reject the principal trait of the people of Sodom. In certain situations,
if one person will not lose anything and another stands to gain, the first
person is obligated by halachah to let the other benefit.
One such case is if a person has taken up residence on the property of
another without the owner’s consent. The “squatter” acted improperly by
not asking permission, and the owner has the right to stop him from
remaining there. Nevertheless, if the owner had no intention of renting
out or otherwise using the property, the squatter is not obligated to pay.
The above is true even if the squatter gained financially by utilizing the
other person’s possessions – in the case cited here, he saved himself from
having to pay rent to a different owner. Since the owner had no intention
of profiting from the property, he lost nothing from the squatter’s use of
1. Rashi on Bereshith 13:13.
2. Maharsha, Sanhedrin 109a.
3. Pirkei D’Rebbi Eliezer 25.
4. Tifereth Yisrael, Avoth 5:10.
5. Bereshith Rabbah 49:6.
6. Avos 5:10.
7. Yalkut Shimoni, Bechukothai 573.
8. Bava Kama 20a, according to the Rif and Rambam; Shulchan Aruch Choshen
Mishpat 363:6. The above only applies if absolutely no damage was incurred
through the use of the property. If the property was damaged by use, the
halachah (Shulchan Aruch Choshen Mishpat 363:7) is that the owner may ask
for full compensation.