Crime and Punishment
By Rabbi Daniel Travis
The world was corrupt in front of God and the land was filled with
Although the generation of the flood committed numerous sins, the
primary “crime” for which they were eradicated was that of theft.(1) Why
is this transgression singled out as the reason for the punishment? Faith
in God is a foundation of the Torah, and someone who steals shows complete
lack of trust in God.(2) Therefore, stealing is like transgressing the
The word “stealing” conjures up a picture of a mugger holding someone at
gunpoint. Although most people are not involved with such theft, the
majority of individuals nonetheless transgress the laws prohibiting theft.
(4) Therefore, when the Torah prohibits stealing money, it is written in
the plural, to show that everyone must take special precautions to guard
themselves from this particular transgression.(5) This is in contrast to
the Ten Commandments, in which the prohibition against stealing people
(kidnapping) is written in the singular, for very few people reach such a
level of corruption.(6)
The Torah prohibition of theft applies regardless whether one steals from
a Jew or non-Jew.(7) If stealing would lead to a desecration of God’s
name, then stealing from a non-Jew is viewed as more serious an offense
than stealing from a Jew.(8) Consequently, the punishment for doing so is
very severe, and money accrued via such means is quickly lost. In one
instance an individual who stole from a non-Jew was punished through the
death of his children. Since all of his children died immediately after
they married, he lost the stolen money as well, for all the money he had
given to each child was left with the family of that child’s spouse.(9)
1. Sanhedrin 108a as cited by Rashi.
2. Rabbeinu Bachyeh, beginning of Parshas Beshalach.
3. Kad Hakemach of Rabbeinu Bachyeh (Gezel).
4. Bava Bathra 165a.
5. Vayikra 19:11.
6. Vilna Gaon, Sefer HaLikutim 2:20b.
7. See Rambam, Laws of Theft (gezeilah) 1:1; Smag, Second Negative
Commandment; Shulchan Aruch 348:2; Maharshal, Yam Shel Shlomo, Bava Kama
10:20; Aruch HaShulchan, Choshen Mishpat 348:2.
8. Tosefta Bava Kama 10:8.
9. Sefer Chasidim 661.
Text Copyright © 2006 by Rabbi Daniel Travis and Torah.org