The Right Thing to Say
Question: When speaking or writing I often rely on an idea or a statement I heard or read. How important is it for me to cite the source?
Answer: Plagiarism is vigorously condemned by our Talmudic Sages. "Do not rob the poor because he is poor" (Mishlei 22:22), they say, is a warning against robbing credit from the originator, who may not be deprived of the money he anyhow lacks, but is the victim of plagiarism. In his commentary on Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 156, the great halachic authority Magen Avraham rules on this basis that one who fails to give credit to a source is guilty of a transgression.
There is a positive angle as well in mentioning your source. "One who says something in the name of another," say our Sages," brings miraculous redemption to the world". The historic example is Queen Esther informing her husband, the Persian King Achashveirosh, of the assassination plot against him, and mentioning that Mordechai was the source of her information. This resulted in the miraculous redemption of the Jewish People from the genocidal plot of Haman.
To practice what I preach I will now quote what I once heard in the name of the great ethicist of the previous generation, Rabbi Eliyahu Lapian of blessed memory, as an explanation of why citing a source is a catalyst for miraculous redemption. G-d deals with us in the manner in which we deal with others. It is human nature to take credit for some important information and deny it to the source. One who is capable of breaking his own nature by citing the source becomes worthy of the Creator breaking the rules of nature that He has created and making a miracle.