"For the land was filled with hamas [robbery]" -- Beresheet 6:13
A mere 1650 years after creation of man Hashem destroyed the world by
flooding the planet. The Torah describes the sorry state of human behavior
that brought on the tragedy in a few terse phrases. "And G-d saw the Earth
and behold it was corrupted, for all flesh had corrupted its way upon the
earth. G-d said to Noah, "The end of all flesh has come before Me, for the
Earth is filled with robbery...I am about to destroy them." Our sages
explain that the world was filled with idol worship and immorality but the
decisive blow to the continued existence of the human race was robbery.
The Hafetz Hayim explains with a parable. A businessman came upon bad
times and was forced to close down his business. His business failure hurt
a lot of people yet no one came forward to seize any of the property that
remained in the debtor's possession that the man needed for himself --
like his house, car or furnishings. One day a frustrated creditor came and
seized the man's car and before you know it others came and stripped the
man of all of his belongings. Explains the Hafetz Hayim: Every sin creates
a damaging demon that can harm the sinner and prosecute him or her in the
Heavenly court. Yet, even if one has a "basketful" of sins, none of the
demons comes forward to harm the sinner. However, the demon created by
robbery has a measure of gall -- huzpah -- and attacks the individual who
created it. The others soon follow suit.
The flood lasted forty days to hint at the fact that the key element that
brought on the waters was gezel -- robbery. Every letter of the Aleph-Bet
has a numerical value. Gimmal equals 3. Zayin is 7. Lamed is 30. The
numerical value of the word gezel -- robbery-- is not coincidentally --
The choice of rain as the destructive force is also crucial to our
understanding of G-d's hate for robbery. Even in a torrential storm, with
countless drops descending from the heavens simultaneously NO TWO DROPS
TOUCH. Each drop has its own path from heaven to earth designated by
Hashem and no drop enters the space of another. G-d distributes property
to each person and He despises when people attempt to take matters into
their own hands -- to disrupt His system -- by cheating and robbing.
Two young men used to visit Rabbi Mordechai Schwab, zt'l, in Monsey, NY.
The Rabbi was very ill and as the two drove up the highway from NY City to
Monsey one said to the other, "The Rabbi is failing, if you have anything
you need to ask him don't delay." Before leaving the frail sage the young
man inquired, "Dear Rabbi, how come we see so much suffering in the Jewish
people in our times. People are sick with all kinds of horrible diseases,
so many can't find a job or a mate and others can't have children. In our
Holy Land people live under the threat of attack every minute. What is
wrong?" The Rabbi answered softly but with a certainty that drove through
the young man's heart. "Are we honest in our dealings with one another?"
Rabbi Yisrael Salanter, zt'l, summed it up in one sentence. "Taking
anything that is not yours is considered theft." Living in a land
corrupted by greed and dishonesty it is very difficult to live up to the
sterling standards of honesty that the Torah demands. "Everyone does it"
does not justify wrongdoing. Each of us has an obligation to study the
Torah's laws of business and property in order to accept upon ourselves
its statutes as a way of life that will bring us all blessing and
prosperity rather than curse and destruction that dishonesty yields.