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Home » Bo, Questions of Ethics

Bo: G-d Gives, The Thief Taks

Submitted by on January 2, 2011 – 9:12 pmNo Comment | 3,152 views

The Theft

When my family returned from a two day trip we found our home was burglarized. The thief broke a window to gain access, rifled through drawers, left a mess and walked away with a few meager items and a charity box. The things he took were just things; easily forgotten and easily replaced. But the sense of violation and intrusion is harder to forget. The stricken look in our children faces tugged hardest at our heart strings.

Wandering about the house, their bewildered eyes taking in the carnage, they wondered aloud about the who and why. This had never happened to them. Their innocent cocoon of warmth, their comforting blanket of security was at least temporarily shattered. It is now our task to bring them comfort; to answer their questions, address their fears and assuage their concerns. But to answer theirs, we must first answer our own and that is a little harder to do. So, I ask, why did he do it?

A Terrible Shame

Obviously because he wasn’t thinking of others; he was focused on himself. There are many people in this city, who would have given him a hand up and lifted him from his fallen straits, but in his desperate state he was incapable of seeing light; his, is the world of darkness.

As my wife and I were picking up the pieces she quietly exclaimed, “I feel badly for his mother; no mother can be proud of raising a thief.” That got me thinking. This man grew up with the same wide eyed innocence I see in my children. His mother had hopes for him as I do for mine. Life got in his way and today he is a thief; prowling about in the dark, slinking about in backyards, seeking entry into strange homes and making off with stolen goods.

How does he feel about himself? How good can he feel when he makes off with a lap top that translates in to a couple of dollars and a fix of cocaine? Does he accomplished? Does he feel the elation of success or the gloom of failure? I fear the answer is neither. In his position he probably has no feeling at all. If he did, he would have chosen a different line of work.

A little while later my wife pointed out that he made off with little of value, to which I replied, he took more from himself than he took from us. Every time he steals, he steals a part of himself. He can easily replace the items he stole, but he cannot as easily reconstitute his humanity, let alone, his innocence.

I feel for this man and would help him recover if I could, but I won’t condone what he did. I hope he gets caught and is made to face his wretched self. I hope he come to grips with what he has become and turns over a new leaf. I won’t pretend that I don’t want to be paid back; I do. But more than his money, I want his remorse; for the anguish he has caused and for the affront to humanity he has become.

It Was Fate

The Jewish exile in Egypt was foretold by G-d to Abraham many years earlier. (1) The suffering, the enslavement and the pain were all pre destined. G-d gives the thief takes - innerstreamYet G-d punished the Egyptians for their treatment of the Jews. Why were they punished for doing what they were destined to do? Because though the Jews were destined to suffer each Egyptian persecutor made his own choice. Each Egyptian could have chosen to step aside and let another do G-d’s dirty work. Because he didn’t, he deserved to be punished.

The same is true of theft. Our financial losses and gains are pre determined by G-d at the beginning of the year. No thief can take from me what I am not destined to lose. I accept the loss as my fate and don’t bemoan what happened. On the contrary, I hope the loss will atone for my sins. Just the same, the thief had no right to appoint himself facilitator of my loss.

I could have lost the money by misplacing it or by paying for an unexpected auto repair or even by donating it to charity. The thief came along and chose to avail himself of what I was destined to lose. That is wrong. I don’t believe for a moment that he saw himself as G-d’s agent to facilitate my destiny. He is an opportunist, who helps himself to other people’s money. He needs to be punished. (2)

I know that he too was served by destiny. There is no doubt that the thief was destined to make money that day. I feel badly for him because he chose a home with so little to steal; for all that effort he could have made off with much more value, but in fact, he was not destined to make more money that day. Even if he had attacked a wealthy home he would have walked away with the same amount. G-d only intended for him to make a little money that day.

He was destined to profit, that is true, but he was not destined to steal. He made the choice of squeezing his pre-destined profit out of an ugly crime. He could have tried his hand at anything that day and would have earned the same amount of money he stole at my home. He can’t hide behind the excuse of destiny; he needs to be punished.

Still, more than I want him punished, I want him changed. There is only one way for me to help him. Allow him to return the money and the items he stole. You might wonder why I should feel entitled to money I was destined to lose. I will tell you that I know only that I was destined to be short that money on the day he stole it. I have no reason to suppose I am destined to continue to be short that money.

The thief has no right to keep the money in the hope that destiny awarded it to him in perpetuity. Returning the money would demonstrate acceptance of G-d, morality and remorse; with this he can begin the long, arduous journey of return. It would be a relief to me, to him and, most of all, to his mother. (3)

A Final Thought

The thief took what was not given him and I cannot imagine he is proud of himself. But here I sit in judgment on my sanctimonious perch. I’m not perfect; no one is. At one time or another we all take what we are not given. It might be a parking spot someone was waiting for, a hard bargain for which we manipulated the seller into undesirable terms or the goodwill of another whom we mislead.

In each case we take what is not offered and are no different from the thief. His guilt is a little more obvious, but my sins are just as wrong. Upon reflection, I would do well to remember that.


  1. Maimonides Laws of Repentance ch. 6: 5.
  2. Ravad’s Gloss ibid. and Nachmonidies on Genesis 15: 14.
  3. Likutei Sichos v. VII p. 15.

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