What does it mean to own something? Is a possession just something that belongs to you, or is there some kind of metaphysical valence that an object takes on when you possess it?  There would seem to be a certain significance attached to objects based on their owners, for example, we have a teaching that even the animals of the righteous do not commit transgressions (see Chulin 7a). Or, that certain food utensils must be immersed in the Mikvah, in order to inaugurate them to the holiness of a Jewish home (see Yerushalmi Avodah Zara 5:15). Similarly, Yaakov went back to retrieve small vessels. The simple peshat is that he valued everything God gave him and also was careful not to steal, thus making his possessions even more significant (see Chulin 91a). I think it’s not a stretch to add a metaphorical dimension,  that since Yaakov appreciated all God gave him, he automatically treated every object with a certain sanctity.

Our Gemara on Amud Beis discusses the special status of a person on his death bed, who is able to enact gifts and other transactions without formal kinyanim, so as to ease his distress and fear that his financial affairs are in order.

Likutei Halakhos, (Choshen Mishpat Laws of Gifting 2.4) develops this theme mystically. He explains, the intent to gift something is only activated by the physical action demonstrating intent such as the kinyan. This is a lower level representation of the deeper spiritual patterns of the universe. The spiritual intentions of the upper spiritual realm can only be catalyzed by the physical actions in the lower realm. This is related to the basic Jewish idea that spiritual intentions alone cannot accomplish without physical actions. Life itself, though messy and far from lofty spiritual matters, is the only way to bring into effect the desired ends of Torah observance. 

Bringing us back to the discussion about the death bed gifts, we can now understand why the gift of the person on his deathbed does not require a formal transaction. Likkutei Halachos explains, since he is on the verge of death, and in the spiritual world, there is no action, only potential thought, his sole intention to make the transfer of property is sufficient.

As a final thought, if we are supposed to treat minor possessions with great sanctity and reverence because they are given by God‘s providence, can you imagine how much more so we should treat our friends, neighbors, family members and loved ones?


Translations Courtesy of Sefaria, (except when, sometimes, I disagree with the translation cool.)