Ethics

For the week ending 23 July 2011 / 20 Tammuz 5771

A Sleep Thief

by Rabbi Mendel Weinbach zt'l
The Color of HeavenArtscroll

Question: I share an apartment with some other single fellows and we have different schedules regarding going to sleep both because of our varying jobs and sleep habits. I sometimes make noise when I arrive late and am scolded by one of my apartment-mates for being a "thief" although I don’t recall ever taking anything from him. What should my reaction be to such an accusation?

Answer: "Thou shalt not steal" is not limited to money or property. An employee paid by the hour who loafs on the job is guilty of stealing time from his employer. This prohibition also applies to one who deprives another of sleep. There is justification, therefore, for your being labeled a thief if you fail to show consideration for your apartment-mates need for sleep.

I am sure, however, that you are not intentionally committing this robbery of sleep but that you consider the noise you make an unavoidable inconvenience. Experience has shown, however, that problems such as the one you describe have always found solutions, such as rearrangement of beds for compatible neighbors, or agreed upon curfews. But in order to seek such solutions one must first be sensitive to the fact that disturbing another’s sleep even involuntarily is theft, and no decent person would pick someone else’s pocket, even involuntarily.

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