Although my knowledge of Spanish does not exceed the vocabulary used in Dora the Explorer, this past Friday afternoon, when we arrived at Rabbi Bentzion Klatzko’s house for Shabbos and he told me, “Mi casa es su casa,” even I knew what he was talking about.
Though “mi casa es su casa” is not a Hebrew phrase, it very much expresses the Jewish sentiment of hachnasis orchim (hospitality), especially when it comes to a family like the Klatzkos. After their house burnt down over a year ago, they rebuilt it with an extra large dining room and a custom made table that splits into two thinner tables and can seat around 60 guests (which was the approximate number of people at their house this past Shabbos).
Besides the 60 people who ate all three Shabbos meals at the house, a third of them also slept at there, while the rest stayed with neighbors and came in and out of the Klatzko’s revolving front door as they pleased.
As if this tremendous contribution to the Jewish people wasn’t enough, (they do this every week) Rabbi Klatzko recently launched a site called Shabbat.com so that Jews throughout the world can experience the magic of Shabbos and Sabbath observing Jews can take the Klatzko’s lead in opening up their homes to these guests.
But back to the “mi casa es su casa” thing – if it’s such a Jewish idea, I wondered, do we Jews have an equivilent expression? After some thought, I realized that we do, and it’s found in the book Ethics of the Fathers, though in the Jewish example, not only do we say that “mine is yours” we also weigh in about whether or not yours should be mine.
According to our sages, there are four different ways to look at your stuff versus my stuff. The most greedy way is to say “What’s mine is mine and what’s yours in mine.” The next level, “What’s mine is mine and what’s your is yours,” though not greedy, certainly doesn’t encourage sharing.
The level after that says, “What’s mine is yours and what’s yours is mine,” and the first time I came across this passage, I assumed that it was the highest level since reciprocity seems to be a beautiful idea. If we all just openly gave to each other, wouldn’t it be a perfect world?
Apparently not, according to our sages. Because they go on to say that the level that we should be aspiring to is, “What’s mine is yours and what’s yours is yours,” meaning that we should give freely of our possessions while simultaneously allowing others to give at their own pace.
Now this obviously shouldn’t be practiced with people who would want to abuse you or take advantage of your generosity (we’re not supposed to give to the point of endangering ourselves). But the lesson here is a very poignant one. Many times we give in hopes of getting something in return – a gift or favor back or at least the gratitude or respect we might think goes along with what we did or gave.
But our rabbis caution us to not fall into such thinking, for giving freely is not enough. We must give with no strings attached or thoughts of what we might gain, just as the Klatzko’s give to their guests every week.