1-5769: Mitzvah N-37

Talmidav Shel Aharon

1-5769: Mitzvah N-37

October 28, 2008

Negative Mitzvah 37 – This is a negative commandment: Do not wrongfully keep anything belonging to your neighbor.

Hafetz Hayim: for Scripture says, “you shall not wrongfully deprive your fellow” (Lev. 19:13). This means that a person is not to withhold an item of monetary value of his fellow-man that came into his hand by the other’s wish, and now he retains it and does not return it to the other: for example, if he has in his possession a loan {tat the other lent him] or wages [that the other has earned] and the other cannot extract if from him because he is powerful, he thus violates this prohibition. It is in force everywhere and at all times for both men and women.

It is hard for us to imagine the issue here because we are so committed to acting in moral and correct fashion at all times. This law comes from an era where the rich and powerful oppressed the weak and the poor because they could do it and get away with it. I suppose that this kind of greed never really went away, now we have the financial instruments to get wealth from everyone equally rather than oppressing the poor.

Here are the examples. A rich man hires a worker to do some work. The work is finished and the worker wants to be paid. The worker tries and tries to get the man to pay but there is always some reason that the rich man can’t pay him. The work is finished and therefore the money already “belongs” to the worker, but he can’t get the money away from the rich man. There is a separate mitzvah to “not let the wages of a worker stay with you overnight.” That is, he should be paid the same day he finishes the work. The rich man is not stealing from the worker, he is just lording over him how rich and powerful he is and the worker can do nothing but beg to be paid. In ancient time, even calling the rich man to court may not insure that the man would be paid. Our lesson teaches us to promptly pay what we owe.

The other example is about taking advantage of a neighbor. A neighbor comes to a man and is worried about an object that will be left behind while the neighbor is on vacation. The man takes it into his house and guards it for the duration of the neighbor’s vacation. He may even have the right to use the object while the neighbor is gone. When the neighbor returns, he wants his object back but the man does not want to part with it so fast. To keep it would be stealing but again, he doesn’t claim the object as his own, he only delays returning it to its owner making the neighbor wait or beg for it to be returned. This is causing pain and humiliation to the neighbor and thus it is forbidden by this negative mitzvah. The rich and powerful cannot humiliate another human being.

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One thought on “1-5769: Mitzvah N-37

  1. Rabbi,This seems especially timely to me, as I’ve had to spend quite a bit of time lately dealing with a situation to which this mitzvah might apply: trying to return an incorrectly delivered item of greater cost that the actual item I ordered from a out-of-state company. It would of course have been much easier and less time-consuming to keep it, but it just didn’t seem to be the right thing to do…Thanks for all your work and wisdom!

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