פרשת יתרו - Parshat Yitro
You shall not Steal
Rabbi Shai Piron
Every so often I like to travel by taxi. But not just any taxi, one with a taxi driver. And not just any driver, but a shrink-like fellow, who thinks the passenger seat and a psychologist's sofa are one and the same. Two minutes after we introduce ourselves to one another, we are in the midst of a therapeutic session that includes an intimate exchange of sentiments on our children, partners, work, and what this country has come to.
Last week I was coming out of a class in one of the places where the religious Zionists and non-religious study Judaism together. I was smiling as I entered the cab. Out of the corner of my eye I could tell my taxi driver was a psychologist wannabe and a mobile Hozer Bitshuva center all rolled into one. He turned to me in outright reprimand and said: "Why didn’t you tell them? Tell them!" "What didn’t I tell them?" I asked. "Why didn’t you tell them to observe the Mitzvot, to keep kosher, to keep Shabbat. Tell them!" But I did tell them. I told him we had been studying the Ten Commandments. I told them that this week we would be reading Parshat Yitro and the Ten Commandments. We would be reading those again in Humash Devarim, Deuteronomy, and at a special ceremony on Shavuot. In the morning service, thousands will stand up and relive the receiving of the Torah at Mount Sinai.
Each will stand still, perk their ears and, almost like that very day when Torah was given to Israel, will be required to renew their covenant with the Torah and ask themselves whether they accept the main values expressed in the Ten Commandments. I told them of the clear distinction between Diney Nefashot – capital or criminal law – and Diney Mamonot – civil or monetary law. "You shall not kill" is about people, whereas "you shall not steal" is about money. But Rashi's commentary contradicts this distinction, for he claims the commandment not to steal refers to kidnapping. And not only is the distinction between people and money disregarded, Rashi also seems to be rendering the Torah's words irrelevant to our day and age. Who engages in human trafficking these days? It seems the western world is no longer involved in treating people as commodities, and focuses more on human rights. Could such a society allow the social outrage that is human trafficking to remain a common practice? Unfortunately, this malady is still encountered inIsrael, even today. A woman traded as a mere commodity is no different than a poor man sold to be a slave – they are both exploited by heartless employers who deny them their basic rights as humans. When I read about
Israel ranking high on the list of countries where women and their bodies are for sale, or see the photographs of humiliated foreign workers, or hear of my kind toiling away and receiving no worthy reward, I am ashamed.
"אֶַחָד הַגּוֹנֵב אֶת הָאִיֹש אוֹ אֶת הָאִיֹשָה, אֶת הַגָּדוֹל אוֹ אֶת הַקָּטָן, אֲפִלּוּ קָטָן בֶּן יוֹמוֹ, הֲרֵי זֶה חַיָּב" (מכילתא דרשב"י). "Whether one steals a man or a woman, an adult or a minor, even a newborn, one is culpable" (Mechilta DeRashbi).
Rashi teaches us that sometimes stealing is murdering. That the living body is in fact dead, that the eyes of the victim, although open, have lost all expression. And so, as I tell my taxi driver how "I told them", how I spoke of the basic Jewish morals that respect all of mankind, I could feel he was relaxing and listening. "You know," I said to him "we've sold one of our brothers in the past, we sold Joseph. And ever since them, something happened to us. We are living on the borderline between charitable giving and humiliating exploitation. We have suffered so much since the brothers sold Joseph. We were exiled toEgyptand have been punished countless times."
The Ten Commandments begin with the command to believe in a single G-d, but such monotheist faith inevitably demands that we also believe all men are created equal.
"כֹּה אָמַר ה': עַל ֹשְלֹֹשָה פִֹשְעֵי יִשְֹרָאֵל וְעַל אַרְבָּעָה לֹא אֲֹשִיבֶנּוּ עַל מָכְרָם בְּכֶסֶף צָדִיק וְאֱבְיוֹן בַּעֲבוּר נַעֲלַיִם"
So says Hashem: for three of Israel's crimes [I forgave them], and the fourth I shall not forgive – their selling a righteous man in exchange for money, and a poor man in exchange for shoes"
Although the Bnei Israel committed three grievous transgressions: idolatry, incest and bloodshed, G-d did not sentence them to destruction or exile, but for theft, which was their fourth, He punished them for all that they had done.
Rabbi Shai Piron is the president of Hakol Hinuch [It's All about Education], the Movement for the Advancement of Education inIsrael, and is the head of Yeshivat Petach Tikva.