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Torah Sparks

May 25, 2002 - 5762

Prepared by Rabbi David L. Blumenfeld, PhD
Department of Services to Affiliated Congregations

Annual Cycle: Num. 4:21-7:89; Hertz, p. 586; Etz Hayim, p.791
Triennial Cycle I: Num. 4:21- 5:10; Hertz, p. 586; Etz Hayim, p. 791
Haftarah: Judges 13:2-25; Hertz, p. 602; Etz Hayim, p. 812

Torah Portion Summary

(4:21-49) The continuation of the census of the Levites, and their responsibilities in serving at the Tabernacle.

(5:1-4) A short list of certain ritually impure individuals who were to be exiled from the camp.

(5:5-10) Laws of theft and restitution.

(5:11-31) The laws of the unfaithful wife, the sotah, and the testing ordeal to which she was subjected.

(6:1-21) The laws of the Nazirite, a person who took a vow to accept extra restrictions upon himself: abstaining from alcoholic beverages, not shaving or cutting his hair, and other extra ritual purity restrictions.

(6:22-27) The Priestly Blessing.

(7:1-89) The Nesi'im, the chieftains of each of the 12 tribes, bring a joint gift, carts, and oxen for the transportation of the Tabernacle when it is disassembled for travel. Then, on 12 consecutive days, they each bring identical gifts for the Tabernacle.

Discussion Theme: Mental Theft and Plagiarism

When a man or woman commits a wrong (theft) toward a fellow man, thus breaking faith with the Lord, and that person realizes his guilt. he shall confess the wrong that he has done. He shall make restitution for his guilt in full and add one-fifth to it, giving it to him whom he has wronged (Numbers 5:7)

  1. Why is thievery deemed to be so egregious a crime that it is singled out here and described as "breaking faith with God"? In answer to this question, I recall what I once learned in a talmud class. Our teacher asked us whether an armed robber is to be considered worse than a thief. Naturally, one would be inclined to say that an armed robber is worse. But it was pointed out to us that though both are criminal acts and the armed robber is clearly more dangerous, it is the stealthy thief who is considered worse from a religious perspective. The reason? Because the thief clearly lacks faith in God, thinking that he can sneak around without being seen. (Author)
  2. A form of thievery that is considered particularly bad according to our tradition is the stealing of another person's trust under false pretenses. In Leviticus 19:11, we read: "You shall not steal; you shall not deal deceitfully with one another."
  3. Samuel said: "The Commandment 'Do not steal' includes the prohibition against stealing a man's mind with misleading words. No one may steal a person's mind, not even a pagan's" (Talm. Hullin 94a)
  4. There are seven sorts of thieves, and the first of them all is he who steals the mind of (i.e. deceives) another person For example, he who makes a show of wanting to give gifts to someone, knowing full well that the person will not accept them (Talm. BK, vii, 8) or a person who presses someone to come to a lavish meal, while knowing in advance that the other person will not accept the invitation. (Talm, BB, vi, 14)
  5. A merchant may not combine different grades of produce in one bin. A wine salesman whose wine has become diluted with water may not sell it unless he makes it known to his customer, and in any event, he may not sell it to another vendor, even if he makes full disclosure, for fear that the second salesman will deceive his customers. (Talm. BM, iv:11)
  6. What follows here is an example of how our Jewish ancestors strictly avoided benefiting from any form of behavior which even mistakenly might have been derived by deceiving others. It shows how far reaching and how serious the prohibition of mental theft was taken.

    Rabbi Safra was once saying his morning prayers when a customer came by to buy his donkey. Because he refused to interrupt his prayers, Rabbi Safra did not answer. Interpreting the rabbi's silence as disapproval of the price offered, the buyer offered a higher amount. When the rabbi still did not answer, the buyer raised his offer again. After the rabbi finished his prayers, he said to the buyer, "I had decided to sell you my donkey at the first price you mentioned, but I did not want to interrupt my prayers to speak to you. Therefore, you may have it at that price - I will not accept the higher bids." (Aha of Shabha, Babylonian scholar, 680-752 C.E.,
    She'iltot, section 252; quoted from F. Klagsburn, Voices of Wisdom, p.308)

On Plagiarism

  1. "Whoever reports a saying in the name of its originator brings the world toward redemption" (Pirkei Avot 6:6)
  2. From Judaism's perspective, a person who takes credit for a statement made by another is a double thief, misappropriating the credit that belongs to the statement's originator, while deceiving listeners into thinking higher of his intelligence than he deserves. (J. Telushkin, Jewish Wisdom, p.52)

"Sparks" for Discussion:

Plagiarism, as we are all aware, has been around for a long time. With the advent of the world wide web internet and its "search engines" and with the ability to "copy" or "cut" and "paste" on our computers - do you think that a new and higher level of plagiarism has or will come about?

What temptations in this regard exist for students in school? In other institutions? As descendants of a religious tradition that militated against "mental theft" in any form, how seriously should we take this new form of misappropriation?

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