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The Eighth Commandment

Aseret Hadiberot -

The Eighth Commandment

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You shall not steal.

Exodus 20:15

Hebraic Insight...

We understand the Torah commandment, "Thou shalt not steal" (לא תִּגְנב) to imply more than being forbidden to steal from others, but also to include the prohibition against stealing from ourselves by failing to practice inner honesty. When we lie to ourselves, we "steal" from the truth, we rationalize what is unjust, and we thereby rob from ourselves the great blessing of inner peace. Indeed, the traditional sages say that every sin essentially constitutes theft from God. For instance, in his discussion of teshuvah (repentance), Maimonides notes that confession of sin is connected with theft (Num. 5:7). Rabbi Yitzchak of Gur asks, "Inasmuch as there are 365 prohibitions in Torah, why does Torah choose to specify the need to confess sin in regard to theft?" He goes on to answer by explaining that if someone borrows something for a specific use, he is not permitted to use it for any other purpose other than that specified, lest he abuse the privilege and "steal the use" of the item. Likewise, God lends the soul the ability to speak, hear, see, and so on, for the sake of living a godly life. If we abuse these things, for example, by using our lips and tongue to speak evil about another, we are using our faculties for a purpose other than God intended, and that constitutes theft. Therefore every sin is a form of theft, an act of "breaking faith with the LORD," and that is why Torah mentions confession of sin in connection with it.

Stealing, in the sense of the Hebrew word ganav, refers to both the act of carrying off by stealth that which is not one's own (i.e., theft), but also to the deceptive inner disposition that accompanies the action. And ultimately that deceptive inner disposition is a form of self-deception. After all, none of us categorically "owns" anything, since God alone is the Creator and Giver of all of life. Stealing arrogantly (and vainly) attempts to seize some "thing" and to claim it for oneself - blindly disregarding the fact that "in Him we live and move and have our being" (Acts 17:28).

At bottom, stealing is an act based on fear, since the attitude behind the action evidences a lack of trust that God will meet all our needs.

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