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Thought for the Day: Four Dimensions of Stealing

Let's take it from the top.  There is one G-d who created and sustains the universe (actually each moment is a whole new creation, but we'll leave that alone for now); we refer to Him as HaShem.  (Kabbalistic sources often use the term "ein sof"/without boundaries/infinite.)  The is one nation that accepted the privilege and challenge of forging a loving relationship with Him and thus earning eternal existence; that nation is called Yisrael (aka, the Jews).  That relationship is mediated and defined by one entity, known as the Torah.  The Torah is realized in this world as a document (Torah sh'bichtav/Written Torah) with explanation and context (Torah sh'b'al peh/Oral Torah).

The Torah can be thought of as providing channels of opportunities for a Jew to connect with HaShem.  A very high level summary was provided as basically the wedding ring that sanctifies our relationship with HaShem and we given at the chuppah known as ma'amad har sinai (standing together under Mount Sinai to receive the Torah).  That summary is on two tablets to signify that our relationship with HaShem has a direct component -- bein adam la'makom/between man and G-d, and an indirect component -- bein adam l'chaveiro/between man and his fellow man.  Each of those relationships has five main dimensions; called in Hebrew "dibros"/utterances, and in English "commandments"; a terrible translation, of course, as we shall see presently.  Those 10 dibros/utterances are comprised of 620 letters, which represent the 613 Torah mitzvos/commandments (see?  I told you) and seven essential rabbinic commandments (yes, rabbinic commandments received at Mt. Sinai; cool, eh?)  From there are oodles and oodles of halachos and minhagim (regulations and "customs").

I know, a long introduction, but I really wanted to set the context for discussing stealing.  "Thou shalt not steal" on the tablets received at Sinai actually refers to kidnapping, but it also alludes to all the different kinds of stealing.  The term stealing in halacha means to take possession of something that belongs to another person that they do not really want to relinquish.  In halacha, there are four dimensions of stealing: g'zeila, g'neiva, oshek, and chemda.

G'zeila (robbery) means to forcibly (at gun point, for example) take possesion.  G'neiva (thievery) means to sneak the item away without the person's knowledge (pick pocket fits into this category).  Oshek means to retain ownership of something that freely given.  Not repaying a loan is one type of oshek, but so is keeping a security deposit (when the residence left the place in good condition) and failing to pay the last month's rent (when moving out of the country, for example... na na na na na na na... come and get me!) are also examples of oshek.  Chemda is to pressure someone into selling something they really want to keep, but the perpetrator makes the victim an offer he can't refuse (or at least makes his life so miserable that it's worth it to sell just to get him off your back).  By the way, borrowing without permission is also a type of stealing; but there is some discussion whether it is just plain g'neiva or something very similar.

In western society, stealing seems pretty minor on the list of horrible sins,  In the Torah system, however, it's right there nestled between murder and adultery.  Stealing is an open statement that one does not believe that HaShem is providing what he needs; a flagrant denial of HaShem's beneficence and omniscience.  That's bad; very, very bad.


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