Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Love Thy Neighbor as Thyself: An Impossible Mitzvah?

There's a documentary that chronicles one wealthy family's attempt to build an American version of the palace at Versailles.  They decide to build Versailles II after running out of space at their first residence:  a 90,000 square-foot cottage.  One wonders, had they completed the project, whether they would've been happy with more space.  Ironically, the Filipino maid (one of twenty servants) had asked for and received the abandoned playhouse in the backyard--it had only space for a single bed!--and she cherished it as if it were the Taj Mahal.

This type of behavior contrasts with, say, certain farm communities among the Mennonites which, the moment a disaster hits somewhere, they mobilize like the National Guard, sending out supplies and food (sometimes even before the National Guard can get there!).

So what makes some people behave selfishly and others behave altruistically?  Or is it even possible to be truly altruistic and have no selfish motivation whatsoever for the good things one does for other people?

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