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Thought for the Day: Paying a Worker Who Steals from You

Paying for weddings is an interesting business, but here's a new issue... the father (who was paying for the meal) decided he wanted to make his guests even more comfortable with the already well supervised kashrus by hiring an independent mashgiach.  So far, so good.  At the end of the evening, the caterer (who owned the hall) told him that several cases of chicken had been stolen.  This caterer, however, had cameras set up to video the chasuna -- including the kitchen area.  He invited the father to watch the videos with him to help him identify the thief.  By this time you may have already guessed the thief's identity: the mashgiach!  They called in the mashgiach, who very embarrassedly admitted his crime; "I am not making enough to support my family and I knew you (the father) could well afford a couple of cases of chickens and thought you wouldn't even miss them!"  He (the mashgiach) was correct on the first count and wrong on the second count.  The chickens were returned; no harm, no foul (since they found the fowl).  Case closed.

Except the mashgiach now wanted to be paid for his hasgacha.  The father blew a gasket, "I wanted an honest, G-d fearing supervisor!  Get out!"  After he calmed down, however, he decided that he better ask just to make sure.  The question went to R' Eliashiv, ztz"l.  Both his analysis and the resulting p'sak are enlightening.

First of all, said R' Eliashiv, every Jew has a "chezkas kashrus"/presumption of honesty.  Therefore, the father certainly has to pay for the time till the stealing occurred.  That is, even though he stole at (let's say) 10:00PM, that didn't retroactively change his status.  You don't have to hire him again, but till 10:00PM he was certainly fit for the job and needs to be paid.  What about after the robbery occurred?

Before we answer that, consider the following p'sak of the Shulchan Aruch (Choshen Mishpat 359:4): Even someone who is stealing to to save his life (ie, he is so poor that he can't afford even basic necessities), may only steal on condition that he plans to repay.  R' Moshe explains simply, the injunction "v'chai bahem"/you shall live by them (the laws of the Torah) means that one can and should transgress any law -- except the big three; murder, adultery, and public idolatry (such as christianity).  Of course, though, one needs to steal with intent to repay.

What if he can't repay?  He is so poor and knows is situation is unlikely to change; what then?  He is still permitted.  More than that, the target of the robbery has to help him!  After all, he himself has the mitzvah of tzedaka.

This mashgiach was not that poor, so none of that applies.  However, the final p'sak was that the mashgiach was due his full payment.  After all, the kitchen staff didn't know he was going to steal chickens, so they were extra careful around him and so he successfully carried out his mission.

None the less, I find it amazing and inspiring how far our Torah goes to find a z'chus/merit for every Jew.  Good thing to know as we approach the Yom HaDin.

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