Talmud Tips

For the week ending 15 April 2017 / 19 Nisan 5777

Bava Batra 81 - 80

by Rabbi Moshe Newman
The Color of Heaven Artscroll

Which Theft is Worse?

Rabbi Levi said, “Stealing from a person is worse than stealing from ‘Gevoha’ (from G-d, meaning stealing property that was sanctified and dedicated for the use and needs of the Beit Hamikdash), because in former case chet (sin) precedes me’ilah (theft via benefit), whereas in the latter case mei’lah precedes chet.”

The Rashbam cites the verses in the Torah that relate to theft from a person and to theft from hekdesh, showing that the order of the words chet and meil’ah are switched in the two cases. He states that chet appears first in a “personal” case, indicating that the thief is called a “choteh” (sinner) as soon as he denies the act of unlawful taking of personal property. When it comes to hekdesh, however, the word chet is mentioned in the verse only after the word mei’lah, indicating that the person is not called a choteh even after taking the hekdesh and denying having taken it — until he uses it and receives benefit from it.

A somewhat different explanation, based on an established Torah principle, can be applied to account for the difference in these two cases in the following manner. Taking the property of another person is considered as theft from that person as soon as the stolen object is removed by the thief from the domain of the victim. However, if one steals property that is hekdesh, it is considered as still being “in the domain of hekdesh”, since “it is in the treasury of G-d wherever it may be”. Therefore, it is not viewed as a true act of theft when it is taken. Rather, it is only truly considered “stolen” after it is taken, when the thief actually uses it to receive benefit. (Maharsha)

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