In this week Parsha, we learn about the destruction of Sedom, primarily because of their lack of chesed. The Gemora in Bava Basra 12B, says that one who does not allow a transaction where he doesn’t lose anything, and the other person will benefit, as Middos Sedom.
The Mishnah in Avos teaches that:
One Who Says: “My property is mine and yours is yours” is an average character type, but some say that this is the characteristic of Sodom.
The Maharal explains that a person has a perfect right to keep his property to himself according to Torah law. This person is average in that he is not scrupulously pious with his possessions, but at the same time he isn’t covetous of others’ things.
The people of Sedom hated giving to help others so much, that they were willing to forgo receiving help in their own time of need. According to the view that “what is mine is mine” is an evil trait the person will not lend his possessions even if it doesn’t cost him anything because he begrudges helping others. In the same vein he doesn’t say “What is yours is yours” out of respect for people’s property, but rather as a pretext to justify not helping others.
Whether “Mine is mine, yours is yours ” is average or evil depends on the intent of the person. The test of intent comes when someone wants to use something in a way that will not cause loss to the owner. The person with evil intent will not lend claiming “Mine is mine, yours is yours”. The average person doesn’t link respect for another person’s property to his own rights of ownership and will lend things if it causes him no loss.
In practice, the pothole here is calculating whether there really is a loss. There are situations in the Gemora where it looks like a loss, but it is really Middos Sedom. Perhaps we need to be careful and make sure that we don’t gently edge over the line and become people acting on the negative character trait of Middos Sedom.