Talmud Tips

For the week ending 20 August 2016 / 16 Av 5776

Bava Kama 79 - 85

by Rabbi Moshe Newman
The Color of Heaven Artscroll

Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai answered his students: Because he (the “ganav”) did not equate the honor of the ‘servant’ (the victim of the theft) to the honor of his Owner (G-d), whereas the he (the “gazlan”) equated the honor of the servant to the honor of his Owner.

A ganav is one who steals in a way that he thinks he will not be caught by his fellow man, such as sneakily at night. A gazlan is one who steals openly and brazenly, such as snatching an item from another in broad daylight. They share the fact they are both thieves, although they steal in a different manner. The students of Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai asked their teacher why the Torah was stricter in regard to the payments the Torah associates with ganav, more so than with a gazlan. Why does a ganav pay double if he is caught with the theft, and four or five times the value of the theft if he stole or slaughtered an ox or a sheep after stealing it, while a gazlan is not subject to any of these fines? Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai answered them that the ganav is worse since he is more afraid of man than he is of G-d, while the gazlan shows as little fear of man as he does of G-d (Rashi). A verse cited by Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai helps elucidate this point: “For they said: G-d has forsaken the earth, and G-d does not see.” (Yechezkel 41:9)

A ganav steals in stealth since he is afraid of the punishment a human court might impose on him if he is caught. However, he shows no regard for the fact that G-d is watching him and knows that he is transgressing by stealing, since he knows it is wrong but does it anyway. This type of person is denying Divine Providence, and is denying the reality of reward and punishment for observing the teachings of the Torah. In this way he is worse than a gazlan who steals openly, since the gazlan realizes that “G-d has not forsaken the earth”, and is subject to punishment both by a human court and by a Heavenly court, yet chooses to transgress since he thinks he will benefit in this world from the theft more than the consequences he will face in the human and Heavenly courts. He is “bad”, but not as bad a ganav, since the way he acts does not indicate that he denies Divine judgment. (Maharsha)

  • Bava Kama 79b

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