When Jews Are Encouraged to Steal:
A lesson from the Parsha
There are many laws in the Torah about what we are and are not allowed to do. What most people don’t know though, is that in many cases when the Torah forbids something, the same act is often allowed under certain conditions.
In this week’s Torah portion, we read about the laws of theft. The Torah says, “If a man steals an ox or a lamb and slaughters it or sells it, he must repay five oxen for the ox or four sheep for the lamb”.
This is not the first time theft is mentioned in the Torah – earlier it appears in the Ten Commandments. There it says, “You shall not steal” and it is interpreted that this is referring to kidnapping. Kidnapping is such a serious crime in the eyes of the Torah, that if the hostage is found with the kidnapper, the penalty is death.
Now, we find that the Torah identifies three different types of stealing: kidnapping, stealing money or goods, as well as deception (stealing of someone’s knowledge).
These three categories are all called by the same name: stealing.
Theft through deception is prohibited. We are not allowed to deceive anyone, Jewish or non-Jewish.
An example of this is if you invite someone to eat in your home, without meaning it. You know very well that he will not come to eat at your house because he has severe dietary restrictions whether health, Kosher, or vegan, so the invitation is just for show – to look good. This too falls into the category of stealing.
But, interestingly enough, there are certain cases where these three types of stealing is actually permitted.
What sort of stealing is ok?
Let’s take for example deception. This too can be found on a positive note. The Zohar says that it actually is permitted to steal a thought from a rabbi’s sermon and repeat it as if it’s your own.
A story is told about the Alter Rebbe. His Chassidim did things that seemed strange to the Jews of those days. They sat and prayed for hours on end and did all sorts of other ‘outlandish’ things.
People complained to the Alter Rebbe that the Chassidim were just pretending to be holy, but that deep down they were probably not so righteous. He listened to these complaints. He then gave his Chassidim a blessing that they do not die until they became what they were pretending to be.
Doesn’t this happen in real life? Have you ever tried to take on a new mitzvah? Suddenly everyone has something to say. “Oh, have you suddenly become such a holy man? You’re a fake, you are deceiving people”!
This type of deception is not only allowed, it is even desirable.
So fake it until you make it!