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Thought for the Day: Helping a Robber -- Unintentional and Forced; Part II

But instead, if a Jew is forced to help a robber, then what is the level of obligation?  (I do that sometimes, continue a conversation out of the blue as if there had been no break.  At least in this case I can refer you back to the beginning of this conversation here, in Part I.)

The back story is that a 10 year old bachur was coming home from cheder in Mexico City.  Mexico City has a high crime rate and so many of the apartments houses have external cameras at the entrance for residents to check who is as the door before buzzing them in.  The boy was accosted by gun man before getting to his building and was told to ring the bell and get him inside, "or else".  The boy did as he was told and gained entry from himself and the gun man.  The brave young man, we'll call him Moshe, was then told to lead the way to his parents' apartment.  Moshe did not take the gun man to his parents, but to a neighbor.  The neighbor heard the knock on his door, looked through the peep hole, and seeing Moshe opened  his door.  The robber made off with $10,000.

The neighbor, we'll call him Aaron, was a shochet; $10,000 was a huge financial loss for him.  Aaron asked Moshe why in the world he had chosen his door?  "I'm very sorry, please forgive me." said brave Moshe, "My father has a heart condition and my mother is pregnant.  I was so worried what could happen to either or both of them if they were threatened by that man with the gun; so I knocked on your door."  Aaron told Moshe that he had done the right thing and there was nothing to forgive.  Moshe went home and told his parents what had happened.  Moshe's parents rushed to Aaron's apartment and, after thanking him for being so kind to Moshe, they said that they wanted to reimburse him for his loss.  Aaron replied, "If the halacha is that the money is owed to me, I will take it.  If not, though, then I'd rather have the z'chus of protecting you from potential harm."

What's the halacha?  Certainly Moshe was forced, but he saved his parents' money by bringing the robber to the neighbor.  The Shulchan Aruch (Ch.M. 388:2) says that if a Jew abets an armed robber to steal from another Jew is obligated to reimburse the victim.  That is, you are certainly allowed to save yourself when threatened with your life by taking money from another Jew, but you also just as certainly have to reimburse his loss.  However, in this case, there is no obligation to reimburse Aaron and he may keep his z'chus.

First, Moshe is a koton/minor.  The mishna (Bava Kama 67a) tells us that if a minor causes a financial loss, the victim has no recourse.  The Shulchan Aruch (Ch. M. 349:3) says that if a minor steals, then he has to return the item; but if the item is gone, he is not obligated to return the value.  Even once the minor becomes an adult, it is a good idea for him to repay his victim, but he is not obligated.

Second, Moshe -- even if he had been an adult -- was not saving his own money.  The robber didn't care whose money he got, he just wanted Moshe to get him into some apartment.  Since Moshe was being forced by threat of death, even an adult would be allowed to do that.

Third, Moshe didn't tie up Aaron or hand the money himself to the robber.  For all Moshe knew (and perhaps hoped), Aaron had an alarm system or a gun of his own.  Moshe enabled the gun man to gain entry, but did not participate in the actual crime.  He aided, but did not abet.  In halacha, that makes him technically exempt.

In case you ever wonder why we say in bichos ha'shachar, "she'lo asani goy" (in the negative), instead of "sh'asani yisrael" (in the positive); just think about Moshe and Aaron.  HaShem gives you the tools, but it is up to you to rise to the level of Yisrael.


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