Thou Shall Not Steal for Those Who Do Not Steal: Flipping the Script: a Lesson from the Other Moses

some believe that there is a relationship between poverty and crime. do poor people engage in crime due to their station in life? do they steal out of need? if the need was eliminated, would this inclination to steal be eliminated?

my opinion differs. from life experience, generally, i do not find the poor to be thieves. i, however, find them to be needy. in my surroundings, the poor who are homeless and substance abusers are the ones who the thieves. others, who are poor, tend to be scavengers and are respectful of others property. they go through garbage and collect bottles to address income and needs. also, there are those in the neighborhood who know them and may give them cash or various items.

if we take the assertion that there may be an inclination on the behalf of the poor to steal, then we, as a society, can make the assertion that if we can work on eliminating this inclination we would then help a fellow human the prospect of violating one of the commandments. thus, participation in charitable efforts can be viewed as an bi-product of the ten commandments.

besides moses, there was another moses, moses ben maimon or maimonides who resided in what is now present day spain. he is considered on the the preeminent philosophers of the middle ages. he laid out, in the mishneh torah, laws of charity, 10:-14. they are as follows:

“There are eight levels in charity, each level surpassing the other. The highest level beyond which there is none is a person who supports a Jew who has fallen into poverty [by] giving him a present or a loan, entering into partnership with him,10 or finding him work so that his hand will be fortified so that he will not have to ask others [for alms].11 Concerning this [Leviticus 25:35] states: “You shall support him, the stranger, the resident, and he shall live among you.” Implied is that you should support him before he falls and becomes needy.8

A lower [level] than this is one who gives charity to the poor without knowing to whom he gave and without the poor person knowing from whom he received. For this is an observance of the mitzvah for its sake alone.12 This [type of giving was] exemplified by the secret chamber that existed in the Temple. The righteous would make donations there in secret and poor people of distinguished lineage would derive their livelihood from it in secret.

A level close to this is giving to a charity fund.13 A person should not give to a charity fund unless he knows that the person managing it is faithful, wise, and capable of administering it in a proper manner as Rebbe Chananya ben Tradyon was.149

A lower level than that is an instance when the giver knows to whom he is giving, but the poor person does not know from whom he received. An example of this were the great Sages who would go in secret and throw money into the doorways of the poor.15 This is a worthy way of giving charity and it is a good quality [to express] if the trustees of the charitable fund are not conducting themselves appropriately. 1610

A lower level than that is an instance when the poor person knows from whom he took, but the donor does not know to whom he gave. An example of this were the great Sages who would bundle coins in a sheet and hang them over their shoulders and the poor would come and take them so that they would not be embarrassed.1711

A lower level than that is giving [the poor person] in his hand before he asks.1812

A lower level than that is giving him after he asks.13

A lower level than this is giving him less than what is appropriate, but with a pleasant countenance.14

A lower level than that is giving him with sadness.”

as individuals within a society who wish to incorporate ten commandment values into their lifestyle, charitable efforts to assist the poor and needy is certainly something to consider and implement. the other moses laid out a variety of ways and means to assist.

i would add to maimonides’ levels a suggestion. there are ranges of poor. some need just a little assistance to get their lives back on track. they may be a month behind in their rent or have some bills they are behind on. payment of these items may get them above water and allow them to be able to cover their monthly expenses. some may need some tuition money so that they can complete their degree and get a job.

i believe that assisting these individuals can provide some greater utility with resources. in these circumstances, you get the proverbial “more bang for the buck.” this comment is not intended to discourage other forms of charity. there are others who are in need for which they will always be in need and they are without means to do otherwise. it is simply a suggestion that can be efficient and a great means of uplifting those who can be uplifted.

in sum, while we not be inclined to be thieves, the prohibition against it should spur creative solutions to allow others within our society to not be forced to violate the commandment in the case of need.

be well!

Published by biblelifestudies

I am a practicing lawyer and long term admirer of the bible

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