Stealing: Not For The Taking
The Mitzvah: All forms of robbery are forbidden as the unlawful taking
another's possession is prohibited (Exodus 21:37; Leviticus 19:11,13).
The crime of stealing is important enough to be included as one of the
Seven Noachide Commandments (Sanhedrin 56b). In fact, the decree of
annihilation imposed upon the Generation of the Flood was only sealed
because of the sin of stealing (Sanhedrin 108a).
However this is a sin where most people falter to varying degrees (Bava
Basra 164b). Cheating others, embezzlement, scam insurance claims, tax
fraud etc also fall within the category of stealing. In fact, the
misappropriating of another's belongings in any shape of form is included
within this commandment.
In our essay Hashovas Aveidah: All is not Lost (Mishpatim 5766) we quoted
Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch (Horeb p.243) who describes man's
relationship and his assets as follows:
"Property is nothing but the artificially extended body, and body and
property together are the realm and sphere of action of the soul."
Every one of man's possessions, like the body, is the medium to reveal
the spiritual essence of the person (his soul) into this world.
Accordingly, each physical object is an instrument to serve G-d. And to
personally use it he must.
In the wider scheme of things, stealing is likened to the thief taking the
soul of his victim (Bava Kamma 119a). This is because, in truth, what the
bandit is doing is to prevent the rightful owner from using his objects as
an extension of his body as the projection of his soul. The thief is
murdering that relationship between owner and his asset.
Rabbi Yisrael Salanter, founder of the Musar Movement, decried the
tendency to place greater emphasis upon the laws between man and his
Creator and to trample upon the importance of the interpersonal laws. Such
thinking is erroneous on man's part. It is related that the Chazon Ish
once disbanded a group of Jews waiting to pray in a quorum because it
would mean that one of the prayers would be late for an important business
Quite the contrary; any infraction on the commandments between man and his
neighbor negatively impacts upon his subsequent relationship with G-d.
Indeed, thievery smacks of heresy. "No man touches what is set aside for
his fellow...even to a hair's breadth" (Yoma 38b). It is an affront to
true belief in an Omnipotent G-d should man think he will not get
something - if he is destined to receive it from on High - but only
through illegitimate means.
More than that: G-d does not want man to use stolen goods as a means of
serving him. Thus it is prohibited to make use of stolen money to acquire
a religious artifice such as an estrog or lulav (Mishnah Succah 3:1). It
cannot portray the dynamics of a mitzvah - which bring a person close to
What stealing does is to destabilize the continual interaction of
creatures within the universe. This was the seal for the complete
destruction of the Generation of the Flood. It had no remnants and was
washed away. What occurs where stealing is rife is that there no respect
is accorded for the property of another - and there is a lack of faith
that man's assets are precious instrument of potential holiness - that
their exclusive purpose is to be used by the owner in the service of G-d.
What each one of us must realize is to use our existing property to its
fullest and that another's belongings are "not for the taking".
Text Copyright © 2006 by Rabbi Osher Chaim Levene and Torah.org.