Here’s one designation that is probably somewhat less familiar to us, though it appears in the daily prayer service and is also (as we’ll see) conceptually connected to a verse in this week’s Torah portion: "Owner of Everything (koneh ha’kol)." Although some commentators explain the Hebrew word, "koneh," in this context, to mean, "Creator," the literal meaning of the word is, "owner," and is so understood by others.
We refer to G-d in this manner in the first blessing of the Shemone Esrei (or Amidah) prayer that is the culmination of each of the three daily services:
"Blessed are You, Hashem, our G-d and the G-d of our forefathers, G-d of
Avraham, G-d of Yitzhak, and G-d of Ya’akov; the great, mighty, and awesome
G-d, the supreme G-d, Who bestows beneficial kindesses and is the Owner of
[or, Who owns] everything…" (Artscroll translation; my emphasis)
A similar expression occurs in the Book of Genesis, when Avraham is greeted by the righteous leader Malkizedek after returning from a war to rescue his nephew, Lot, and the inhabitants of Sodom from a group of wicked kings: "Blessed is Avram to the Supreme G-d, Owner of Heaven and Earth." So, too, in the long first blessing that precedes the Shema, we give thanks to G-d for all His wondrous creations in the following way: "How great are Your works, Hashem! You make them all with wisdom, the world is full of Your possessions (kinyanecha)."
Let’s understand this idea. By virtue of having created it all ex nihilo (and--crucially--continuing to sustain every single molecule each second), G-d truly owns this world...and each one of us. Rav Avigdor Miller, zt’l, in his commentary to the morning prayers (Praise, My Soul), further explains that G-d has acquired ownership of us "by default or inability to pay." Since we cannot really "repay" G-d sufficiently for even a single one of the blessings He showers on us (through no merit of our own), we are "continuously being more and more mortgaged [!] and humbled, for as the benefits continue the obligation increases." With this idea, Rav Miller explains the juxtaposition of clauses in the first blessing of Shemoneh Esrei quoted above: because G-d continually "bestows beneficial kindesses" without end, He becomes "the Owner of everything."
Indeed, the great classic of Jewish ethics, Duties of the Heart (Chovos Ha’Levavos), explains that our whole service unto G-d (as human beings and as Jews) is built on the foundation of gratitude for benefits received. In fact, the author explains, the greater the benefits, the greater the measure of obligation to fulfill G-d’s Will. Since the Jewish people are especial beneficiaries of Divine favor (we owe our national existence to G-d’s direct and supernatural intervention in history, as recounted in the Book of Exodus), we owe G-d a special measure of dedication and service. This is one reason we have more mitzvos to fulfill than do non-Jews.
Put differently, G-d (as it were) "owns" us Jews more absolutely and exclusively than any other people on earth. That idea is expressed in one of the designations G-d gives to us in the Torah: "you shall be to Me the most beloved treasure (am segulah) of all peoples" (Exodus: 19, 5). In other words, His special "possession."
Very well. But where do we see the "G-d-as-Owner" theme expressed in this week’s Torah portion? (I know you’re on the edge of your seat about that.)
In discussing the transgression of stealing from a fellow Jew (or a convert), the Torah introduces the mitzvah of making a verbal confession (viduy) to G-d whenever one wishes to repent and make restitution. "They shall confess the sin they committed…" (5, 7) Verbal confession is, of course, a crucial part of the process of teshuva (repentance), as we know from the Yom Kippur service. But on every day of the year, we must verbally confess to G-d when doing teshuva on any sin--whether committed against man or against G-d alone.
The question is, Why does the Torah introduce the mitzvah of confession here of all places? Why by the transgression of theft, specifically, are we taught about the general obligation of confessing?
The S’fas Emes gives a beautiful answer. All transgressions, he explains, are really encompassed under the heading of theft (gezela), for we are not "returning to Hashem" His due. To disregard G-d’s commandments and misuse His creations (whether it’s our own bodies, the honor of our fellow man, or even the air we breathe as we sally forth to defy G-d) is to commit theft against the "Owner of everything." This is why the obligation of confession (a prerequisite for "returning" ourselves to the proper consciousness of G-d’s ownership of our lives) is introduced in the context of a discussion of theft.
The Talmud also tells us that the blessing we make before partaking of food removes us from the sin of "stealing" the pleasures of this world (which G-d wants us to enjoy honestly). Through saying--for instance-- the proper blessing that recognizes G-d as the Bestower of a delightful cup of coffee (and the true Owner of all of Starbuck’s beans, as well as of our taste buds that delight in them), I gain the "right" to drink it. My blessing is the small "service" G-d asks "in return" for giving me this pleasure.
The delightful mitzvos of the Torah (each one an opportunity to bring meaning and blessing into our lives) are the "service" that G-d asks in return for the gift of life He has given (and continues to give) us.
I personally like the designation of G-d as "Owner" of everything. It’s true that it may not be quite as poignant or poetic as some of the others ("Please, dear Owner, answer my prayers!?") But it tells it like it is. He really does have the right of ownership over this world and its inhabitants. Yes, we are entitled use this world, and enjoy it (and actually elevate it)…but only if we follow His guidelines, the Torah. Otherwise, we’re thieves on some level.
If a person really internalizes this idea of G-d as Owner of Everything, the S’fas Emes writes, he will never come to sin! He We won’t abuse, or philander, or curse or murder. He will see this whole world flashing a cautionary neon sign (on subway walls, tenement halls…and everywhere else): G-D’S PROPERTY! TREAT WITH CAUTION! ACKNOWLEDGE THE FATHER, KING, AND ROCK OF ISRAEL…WHO IS ALSO THE OWNER OF EVERYTHING!
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