Past Weekly Shabbat Message
Rabbi Dovid Saks
(Torah Portion Mishpatim) A Spark Within!
The Torah speaks about two types of thieves, the Ganov and the Gazlan. The ganov is the common thief who doesn’t want his identity exposed and breaks in secretly trying to remain under the radar and surveillance. The gazlan robs by force even in broad daylight and he doesn’t care if he is identified.
When these two types of thieves are caught and proven guilty, their punishment is different. The ganov that is caught pays back double what he stole while the gazlan only has to pay back the amount he stole.
Why does the Torah differentiate between the repayment of the ganov and the gazlan?
Our Sages explain that the ganov who steals in a sneaky way is afraid of people and is trying hide from them yet he does not fear the ever watchful Eye of G-d. The ganov essentially fears people more than he fears G-d. The Torah therefore punishes the ganov fining him to pay double.
I came across an explanation of the double payment. The ganov did two things wrong. He harmed the victim by making him lose the money he stole, and he also personally gained that same amount. His punishment is that he must pay both for the loss he caused and the money he gained.
If the ganov is not caught by witnesses rather he admits on his own, he only pays the amount he stole, because there is a rule that when one comes forth and admits his wrongdoing, he is exempt from penalties.
On the other hand, the gazlan who acts brazenly and does not care if his identity is exposed to man, is not more concerned about being identified by man than by G-d; he does not show that he fears man more than G-d, therefore he is only required to return the amount he stole and does not pay a fine.
There is another rule about thievery that the Torah speaks about. If one steals an ox or a sheep and then slaughters or sells it, when the thief is caught he must pay the owner a penalty. For an ox he must pay the principal plus a penalty of four times the value of the ox, and for a sheep he must pay the principal plus a penalty of three times the value of the sheep.
The question raised is why is the penalty less for a stolen sheep than for a stolen ox?
The Talmud offers two reasons: Since an ox is used for work, such as plowing, and the owner lost out on his ‘equipment’ while it was stolen, therefore, the thief pays additional compensation. The sheep is not a worker, and its absence did not cause a loss, therefore, the penalty is reduced.
The other reason given is that when a thief steals an ox, the ox is generally led with ease into the thief’s possession; he therefore pays the full extent of the penalty. However, when one steals a sheep it does not follow him gracefully; the thief has to shlep it, often even on his shoulders. Since the thief was humiliated during the process, his penalty is reduced.
You may be wondering, based on what we said that a ganov is one who steals secretly, in the case where one steals a sheep clandestinely and no one saw him remove the sheep from the property; how then was he humiliated?
An answer offered is that the humiliation that the thief is subject to when he struggles and shleps the sheep on his shoulders does not come externally. Rather, the humiliation comes from the thief’s own moral and ethical compass. As low as the thief sinks due to his state of desperation, the Torah tells us that there still exists some self-pride and a sense of right from wrong within the Jew that generates a feeling of humiliation. This feeling may even cause the thief to abandon his wrongful act and intent, and even if he continues and is eventually caught, G-d tells us that those feelings of humiliation play a role in diminishing his penalty!
The Talmud teaches us that there are three basic characteristics of a Jew; they are compassionate to others, they have a sense of embarrassment and they perform loving kindnesses.
The quality of a Jew having a sense of embarrassment is a gift which prevents Jews from sinning by enabling them to pause and calculate if what he is doing or about to do is in the spirit of G-d’s wishes and if it is what He expects and hopes from all of us!
This, what is commonly called Jewish guilt, is in truth, our pure Neshama – soul – talking to us and advising us to make the right decisions!
Have a most enjoyable, restful and peaceful Shabbos!
Rabbi Dovid Saks