Stealing from God

Stealing from God

Naso | Numbers 4:21-7:89

Parshat Naso is the longest of the weekly Torah readings, some 176 verses, and so it touches on many topics, from the completion of the census of the Levites to the gifts of the heads of the tribes brought to the dedication of the Mishkan, from the ritual used to test a wife suspected of adultery to Birkat Kohanim, the priestly blessing.

And here is what the Torah says on yet another topic: “The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Speak to the Israelites: When a man or woman commits any sin that people commit, to commit a trespass against the Lord, and that person realizes his guilt….’”

Just what is a trespass, a sin, against God? You might think of eating a cheeseburger or going to the office on Shabbat, one of those things that the rabbis call bein adam l’makom, a sin between a person and God rather than a sin bein adam l’havero, between one person and another. But the Torah continues, “He shall confess the wrong that he has done. He shall make restitution in the principal amount and add one-fifth to it, giving it to him whom he has wronged.”

Moreover, Rashi points out that this is an expansion of a commandment already recorded in parshat Vayikra, “When a person sins and commits trespass against the Lord by dealing deceitfully with his fellow in the matter of a deposit or a pledge or by robbery or by defrauding his fellow….”

So how does the Torah define this sin against God? It is theft. But why is stealing from another person considered a sin against God? The Hiddushei HaRim (Rabbi Yitzhak Meir Alter of Ger, 19th century, Poland) explained it this way:

“Why is the commandment to confess, which is the foundation for repentance for every sin, mentioned here, in regard to theft? The reason is because deep down every sin is one of theft: God gave life and power to humanity so that they should use them to do God’s will, and if they use their lives and powers to transgress God’s commandments, they are stealing from their Creator. That is why the Torah mentions the commandment of confession and repentance here.”

There is no sin — from murder to working on Shabbat, from speaking lashon hara (negative gossip) to turning your back on the needy — that doesn’t involve the misuse of the life, abilities, and talents that God has given us. God has given these things so that we might use them to do good for ourselves, our families, our communities, and even for strangers. And so, every sin is one of theft from God.

And it’s not just a matter of committing sins. The gemara in Berachot (35a-b) adds this: “It is forbidden for a person to enjoy anything from this world without a blessing…. Anyone who enjoys anything from this world without a blessing, it is as if he steals from the Holy Blessed One.”

Certainly, you would never in a million years consider sticking up a convenience store, robbing a bank, or embezzling from a charity on whose board you serve. So how can you steal from the Holy Blessed One?

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