Our Sages teach that until the age of bar/bat-mitzvah, one only has a yetzer hara (bad inclination). When one reaches the age of majority, s/he receives the yetzer tov (good inclination).
When Rabbi Israel of Ruzhin reached his bar-mitzvah milestone, they asked him how he was able to be so pious until that point, absent his yetzer tov.
He responded: The law is that a judge may never listen to a case until both parties are present. Until now, whenever the yetzer hara appeared before me with a contention, I simply said to him, “Look sir, I’m sorry I can’t listen to you until the other litigant, the yetzer tov, arrives!”
If indeed we don’t receive our yetzer tov until our bar/bat-mitzvah, how does anybody behave properly until then?
The Torah states: “No man shall leave his place on the seventh day.” This teaches us that we may not take long walks out of the city limits on Shabbos.
The techum (boundary) to which we are limited is two thousand amos (about a kilometre) beyond the city limits. That’s as far away from your home that you can venture on Shabbos. And the Mishnah teaches that your possessions, such as your pets and household belongings, are likewise restricted to the same limits.
What if there were two towns close to one another such that their techum limits overlapped? On Yom Tov when we may carry, could people in one town borrow items from people in the adjacent town?
The Mishnah clarifies that if the items were borrowed before Yom Tov, their techum is determined according to the borrower’s limits. If they were borrowed on Yom Tov, their techum is as per the lender, since at the onset of the holy day, they had already had their techum determined.
Says the Mishnah: “If a woman borrowed spices, water and salt from her friend for her dough, its techum is restricted to both women’s limits [since the dough consists of one woman’s flour and the other’s water]. Rabbi Yehuda exempts the dough from the lender’s techum because the water has no substance.”
Rashi elucidates Rabbi Yehuda’s teaching: The water and spices are not discernible in the bread as distinct substances. They have become one with the dough and are therefore negated to it.
When you help someone out, what’s going through your mind? Are you thinking about ‘what’s in it for me? I’d better lend her the ingredients, because next Yom Tov, I might need to borrow some salt from her!’
Many of the ‘favours’ and ‘good deeds’ that we perform, are not magnanimous at all. It’s simply your yetzer hara acting for your own good. When a child behaves properly, she does so because she’s been trained that way, or that’s what’s expected of her. Or perhaps he is thinking ‘If I do this, then I’ll get something in return.’ It is only once one reaches the age of majority and receives the yetzer tov that one may begin to act altruistically.
Rabbi Yehuda teaches that when you lend the ingredients, you must have no expectation of getting something in return. The water is completely enveloped in the dough and now has no independent existence; it is completely negated.
That’s how we should assist others – with no expectation of anything in return. ‘I am giving you my water and spices and they are utterly and completely yours, such that my contribution is no longer discernible as an independent entity. Therefore I expect nothing in return.’
Sadly, most people’s acts of ‘generosity’ even after their bar/bat-mitzvah – indeed throughout their lives – are fueled by selfishness. They are not truly out to help the other person; the question they are asking deep-down is ‘What’s in it for me?’
This is a particularly unhealthy attitude when it comes to the ultimate giving relationship – marriage. All too often, people get married because they want something out of their partner. With such an attitude, you will never be satisfied. Marriage is about unconditional giving. The more you can contribute to the marriage with no strings attached and no expectation of getting anything in return, the happier your marriage will be. The aim is to become to your spouse as water is to dough – completely and utterly one substance.
Because of course, once the kids come along, there’s no way you could ever have the attitude of ‘What can I expect back in return for all the sleepless nights, diaper changes, tuition costs, feeding and clothing them, etc, etc!’ Giving unconditionally to your spouse is the first step to learning how to give unconditionally to others.
You were placed into this world to be imitatio Dei – G-d-like. Just like the Almighty provides you with His bounty and bestows His blessing upon you, you must strive to be as generous as you can, with no expectation of anything in return. The more you unconditionally contribute, the more G-dly you become!