The Deal Breaker


Photo Credit: Jewish Press

The Talmud (Sanhedrin 108a) quotes R’ Yochanan: Come and see how detrimental robbery is. The people of the Generation of the Flood violated all of the Noahide Laws, but their punishment was not sealed until they stole, as the Torah says (Bereishis 6:13), “For the earth is filled with robbery through them, and I will destroy them with the earth.”

The Talmud also cites Yechezkel 7:11, which states that robbery rose up like a staff of evil; it was conspicuous among all their sins.


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The Zera Shimshon (Rabbi Shimshon Chaim b. Rabbi Nachman Michal Nachmani, a renowned rabbi of four large communities in 18th-century Italy) points out that Rashi writes that the world was going to be destroyed because of rampant immorality. So why does the Talmud say robbery sealed the decree?

The Zera Shimshon answers this question by citing a passage in the Talmud (Berachos 32a) that quotes Devarim 1:1, which lists the places where Moshe spoke to Bnei Yisrael. Among them is Di Zahav. Since there is no such place, it is taken to be an allusion to an event. The words literally mean “enough gold.” In pleading with Hashem for atonement for the Jews after the Sin of the Golden Calf, Moshe Rabbeinu argued that they sinned because of the overabundance of gold and silver that G-d had bestowed upon them. (They received so much that they found themselves saying, “Enough gold!”)

The Talmud states that Hashem accepted Moshe’s argument, as per Hoshe’a 2:10: “I lavished gold and silver upon them and they used it for the Ba’al.”

Our Sages tell us that the people of the Generation of the Flood were so rich that they even had a small sample of Olam Haba, and they were therefore more susceptible to pursuing immorality. In fact, even the angels who were sent down among them from Heaven succumbed to sin.

Hashem knew that the people would contend that they sinned because of their riches, but it was this very excuse that sealed their fate. If they had so much wealth, and didn’t lack for anything, why did they steal?

Obviously, they didn’t steal out of an overwhelming desire for something they didn’t have. Rather, they stole for the sole purpose of rebelling against Hashem. That’s why the “decree was sealed because of robbery.” Certainly one of their major sins was immorality. But what sealed their fate was stealing, which constituted a rebellion against Hashem.

A merchant from Lomza met with R’ Eliyahu Chaim Meisels, the rav of Lodz and related that he had come to do business in Lodz and had spent the night at one of the local inns. In the morning, he had returned his room key to the innkeeper and left to the train station to head home.

However, when he reached for his wallet to pay for the ticket, he found that it was missing. He recalled that he had placed his wallet under his pillow, along with his gold watch, when he went to sleep the night before and had forgotten them there. He quickly ran back to the inn, and the innkeeper assured him that no one had been in his room yet. All the same, when he opened the door, he had the feeling that someone had been there. He searched the entire room but could not find his wallet or watch.

“I told the innkeeper that I suspected someone had stolen my wallet and watch,” said the merchant, “but he became very angry and claimed there were no thieves in his inn and no one had ever lost even a shoelace.

“Please, honored rabbi, what can I do?”

Rav Meisels was well acquainted with the innkeeper from previous encounters with him, and was well aware that honesty and integrity were not his strong points. Rav Meisels sent his attendant to summon the innkeeper, and the two parties presented their case. At one point, the innkeeper took out a silver snuffbox from his coat. The rav reached for the box and took it, then suddenly excused himself from the meeting.

Outside the room, Rav Meisels instructed his attendant to go to the inn and ask the innkeeper’s wife for the watch and wallet he had left behind in the morning. He advised the attendant to show her the innkeeper’s silver snuffbox in his hand. After some time, the attendant returned with the merchant’s wallet and watch and gave them to the rav along with the snuffbox.

The rav returned to the meeting, inhaled some of the snuff, and returned the box to the innkeeper. He chatted with him for a while and then sent him on his way.

Rav Meisels then turned to the merchant who had remained behind and asked him for identifying features that would prove that the gold watch and wallet were, indeed, his. The merchant easily described his belongings and rejoiced upon their return. The rav was happy as well because he wanted to make sure theft would not be tolerated in his city.


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