Beit Midrash

  • Jewish Laws and Thoughts
  • Pathways in Personality Development
קטגוריה משנית
To dedicate this lesson

The Torah study is dedicatedto the full recovery of

Dvorah bat Miriam

The desire to attain wealth is one of the strongest drives in man's soul, and special attention is needed if one wishes to clean himself of this tendency completely. As a matter of fact, the Sages teach that, "Man's soul desires and longs to perform theft and sexual immorality; most are guilty of theft, a minority are guilty of sexual immorality... yet all are guilty of gossip." The intention here is not to assert that most people are guilty of actual theft, that they actually stretch out their hand to swipe the money of their fellow man in order to keep it for themselves, heaven forbid. That is not what the Sages intended to say. Rather, most of us are to some degree guilty of theft as a result of transactions we have failed to carry out in a completely upright manner.

People are lenient when it comes to making a profit at the expense of others. They say to themselves, "That's the way things are in business, there's no way around it, there's no way to profit if you are honest. Everybody is like that - why should I be any different than anybody else?" All the same, the prohibition against stealing is very severe. Many Torah prohibitions are associated with it - for example: "Do not extort," "Do not rob," "Do not steal," "Do not deny," "Do not lie to your fellow man," "Do not deceive your brother," and, "Do not push back your neigbor's boundry." These prohibitions involve different forms of theft, of taking money from others unjustly.

Not only are outright acts of theft and robbery forbidden, any act which leads to them is included in this prohibition. With regard to this the Sages say that the verse, "And the wife of his fellow man do not defile," implies - in addition to its obvious meaning - that one should not endanger his fellow man's business. Endangering another person's business, thereby reducing his income, is a serious offense. According to the Mishnaic Sage, Rabbi Yehuda, it is forbidden for a shop owner to hand out nuts and candies to children with the intention of attracting their business, for this takes away from the business of other store owners. True, other Sages permitted such behavior, reasoning that competing store owners reserve the right to do the same, yet Rabbi Yehuda's opinion indicates the sort of sensitivity one ought to demonstrate when it comes to endangering the income of his fellow man. One must refrain from attracting consumers from other stores in dishonest ways for this sort of behavior falls into the category of causing theft.

It is very easy to be persuaded to transgress the prohibition against " Hona'ah ," or deception. An example of Hona'ah is the beautification of merchandise in the eyes of the consumer, to the point where a product looks more attractive than it actually is. The Sages said, "It is forbidden to embellish second hand merchandise so that it appear new." It is quite a serious offense to hide the deficiencies of an item for sale, i.e. to paint an automobile which has been in an accident so that it appear new, without revealing what the car had been through, or to adjust its odometer so that it appear to have traveled fewer miles than it actually has. And the Rabbis teach that, "It is forbidden to mix fruit with fruit, even new with new, not to mention old with new." That is to say that if the seller claims that he is selling to the buyer a certain type of fruit, he is not permitted to mix a different type in with it. It is also forbidden for him to put the attractive fruits on top, while placing fruits of a lesser quality underneath them, for this is what our Rabbis refer to as "stealing the eyes" of the consumer. These are every-day acts which the salesman tends to disregard. The Torah, despising these sorts of acts, branded them with five disgraceful names: "injustice," "hated," "loathsome," "destruction," and "abomination." These sorts of acts are despicable and detestable.

The prohibition against deception extends beyond relations between Jews; it is forbidden to deceive even non-Jews. "Do not" says the Torah, "deceive your fellow man," - even the non-Jew. "The remnant of Israel will not perform injustice and will not speak falsehood, and deceitfulness will not be found in their mouths."

We have managed to touch upon a few examples, demonstrating just how much one must exert himself if he wishes his behavior to be taintless and pure of all semblance of theft.

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