Talmidav Shel Aharon
32-5768: Mitzvah N-35
August 19, 2008
Negative Mitzvah 35 – This is a negative commandment: do not take anything in robbery from one’s fellow-man by main force.
Hafetz Hayim: For Scripture says, “nor shall you rob him.” (Lev. 19:13). The prohibition of this injunction is on anything worth from a prutah [the smallest coin] and up, yet even less than that is forbidden [but not punishable] like anything less than a minimum amount. If a person takes even something worth a prutah from his fellow man, it as though he takes his life. It is in force everywhere and at all times for both men and women.
Stealing is a serious crime, but robbery, stealing by force, is much worse. Stealing can be done in secret; robbery is done in full view of the victim and it is as if the robber doesn’t care. It is one thing not to fear your fellow human being, but robbery also implies that the robber does not fear God either. The fact that robbery implies stealing as well as the threat to the life of the victim; this makes it one of the most terrible crimes. It is said that robbery was one of the three sins that caused the first Temple of Jerusalem to be destroyed.
On the one hand, it is clear that there must be a minimum value to the crime. Some items are so small that the threat to life could not be very great. Still, the minimum for robbery is the smallest coin. After all, even a penny or a dime could be a lot of money for someone who is very poor. Still, even something worth less could be considered robbery. It is said that this was one of the sins of the wicked cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. When a new merchant set up his grain shop in the marketplace, every person in the city would come and steal one grain of wheat from his shop. By the end of the day, he had nothing and there was nobody to arrest for the crime, after all, they had stolen only one grain of wheat!! It is so often that we steal from a friend or from our workplace simple small items, a box of paperclips, a stapler, a ream of paper, but no matter how small, it is still stealing and forbidden.
People also get very attached to their possessions. Even a small coin could be very important to a person. In the movie, “Throw Mama From the Train” actor, Danny D’Vito asks his friend, Billy Crystal, to come see his coin collection. He takes out a small box with just a few coins in it. “What are these coins?” asks Crystal. “Well,” says D’Vito, “this is the nickel that I got as change from when my father bought me my first ice cream cone. And this is a quarter that I won at Coney Island…” the value of the coin collection was not in the resale value of the coins, but in the memories they recalled in the mind of their owner. They were small coins but to D’Vito’s character, they were priceless. No wonder we are taught that one who robs another, it is as though he takes his life. Many have pined away for years over beloved objects which were stolen.
Finally, take note that this law is applied equally to Jews and non-Jews. Nobody is outside the protection of this law.