But Is It Really Stealing?

In his famous work, Mesillas Yesharim, Rav Moshe Chaim Luzzato ascertains that in addition to stealing being prohibited, anything that can potentially lead to stealing is also prohibited1. The concept of a geder is nothing new. In Judaism, we are fully protected by Chazal to never commit a d’oraita through all of the layers of issurei deraban that are legislated. But this safeguard seems to be different. It is extremely open-ended — and even seems a bit subjective — whereas all the other Rabbinic decrees are more rigid; open to debate in how to keep them practically, but still laid out clearly.

To explain this, we have to look at the source that Ramchal uses for this added prohibition by stealing. He quotes the posuk in Yechezkal2 that states “the righteous man… does not defile his neighbor’s wife.” The Gemara explains this posuk to mean “not encroaching on another man’s property.”3 Maharsha clarifies this concept by explaining that the Gemara derives this translation from from a statement in Kiddushin4 to the effect that the word “isha” can often refer to property rather than wife.

What exactly is included, though, under the rubric of “encroaching on another’s property”? The Meiri on the Gemara in Bava Metzia5 explains that it includes putting anyone else at a disadvantage. Rebbe Yehuda even goes so far as to say that this should even include prohibiting a storekeeper from giving nuts to children free of charge lest it promote them coming to that specific store rather than keeping the competition even. The discussion concludes with the Chachamim allowing the nuts to be given out, arguing that other storekeepers also have the ability to give children nuts. Despite this allowance, this idea teaches us to what extent we have to be filled with chesed. We have an obligation within ourselves to have an enormous amount of selflessness and concern for others. It is no doubt for this reason that Ramchal “adds” on the seemingly impossible prohibition of abstaining from any activity that may have the possibility of leading to stealing. This prohibition is about inculcating a culture within ourselves and perfecting our middos. The material effect that stealing has on others is only secondary to the massive effect that stealing can have on our collective personalities and souls.

A word of encouragement though: This attribute seems almost unattainable. It’s human nature to be looking out for ourselves and our loved ones before anyone else — sometimes even at the expense of our better ethical judgement. However, worry not; the ability to look beyond the here-and-now and acknowledge a Higher Cause is in our very DNA. After winning the war with the four kings and the five kings to save Lot, Avraham Avinu wouldn't take even a shoelace as compensation to reward his efforts6. If our forefather can do it, then so can we.

1. See Mesillas Yesharim Ch. 11

2. 18:6

3. See Sanhedrin 81a

4. 30b

5. 60a

6. See Bereishis 14:22-23

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