Talmidav Shel Aharon
31-5768: Mitzvah N-34
August 12, 2008
Negative Mitzvah 34 – This is a negative commandment: do not steal objects or items whatever their monetary value.
Hafetz Hayim: For Scripture says, “You shall not steal.” (Lev. 19:11). The prohibition applies to anything worth from a “perutah” [the smallest coin] and up. It is all one whether a person steals the item of monetary value of a Jew, a minor, or a non-Jew: he has to make compensation. It is forbidden to steal anything at all by the law of the Torah, as the law applies to anything half or less than the minimum amount. It is forbidden to steal anything by way of a joke, or with the intention of returning it, or with the intention of paying for it. It is forbidden to buy anything which can be firmly assumed to have been stolen. It is in force everywhere and at all times for both men and women.
As we saw last week, the prohibition against stealing items belonging to someone else is not from the Ten Commandments, it is from this source in Leviticus. In the Ten Commandments, the list includes laws that have capital punishment as their penalty. In this case, the Torah has a series of fines that are levied against those who would steal. For most items, one returns the object, or the value of the object (if it can no longer be returned) and pays a penalty of half the value of the item stolen. If the item is an animal, the penalty is different. For small animals he pays a penalty of 4 times the value of the animal. If it is a large animal, the fine is five times the value of the animal. The Sages comment on the difference in the penalty since they assume that he would carry away a small animal (sheep or goat) but the larger ones, (cow or ox) would be led away on their own power. Since it was more embarrassing to carry a sheep on one’s shoulders, the difference in fines was in recognition of this embarrassment. It seems to me, however, that if the thief chooses to steal the animal, it should not be a factor if he has to embarrass himself or not.
My mother would say, “Stealing is stealing”. The Hafetz Hayim agrees. The value of the item is not a mitigating factor. Stealing as a joke or prank or even with the intention to buy the item is all stealing and is forbidden. It causes pain to the owner and the pain is unnecessary. One does not play fast and loose with things that belong to another person. This includes pens that belong to the company we work for, shoplifting when there is no one to catch you, and tampering with time on a time card.
Stealing also does not depend on who you are stealing from. There is no justification for stealing from a minor (candy from a baby) or from a non-Jew. Stealing from a non-Jew may even be a bigger crime since it would also involve Hillul HaShem, the desecration of G-d’s name in the eye of the victim.
Finally, it does not matter if you did not do the stealing. One is forbidden to traffic in known stolen goods. If you are caught with stolen goods, you must return it and pay the penalty.