I have a friend who operates upscale gift stores in exclusive tourist destinations. He told me that his customers are constantly “helping themselves” to merchandise.
Let’s just stop a minute here. We are not talking about the “inner city.” We are talking about exclusive vacation spots where affluent families come with their children.
Frankly, poverty is no excuse for theft. Our ancestors were mostly Yidden living in European ghettoes. The norm was poverty. Many families existed on meager fare, where even a chicken was a luxury which they could not afford even on Shabbos. Fruits were an unusual, exotic treat. The roof leaked; the floors were dirt and water had to be carried to the home. Women and girls often had one dress, with perhaps another for Shabbos.
Would they even consider stealing?
Chas v’Shalom! Unthinkable! They were kadosh hakadoshim, the holy of holies. Their entire lives were Torah, for which they were willing to sacrifice even food. The yeshivos of one hundred years ago were filled with boys who learned on empty stomachs. And from these boys emerged Torah giants.
Our parents were not religious Jews. They were not brought up that way, but they were paragons of derech eretz, righteous behavior. They would never have thought for one second of stealing a penny. Quite the opposite, they were generous and charitable.
Yet the culture which surrounds us thinks nothing of stealing.
I have discussed before what the Torah says about the causes of the Great Flood which destroyed the world in the days of Noach: “Now the earth had become corrupt before Hashem, and the earth had become filled with robbery. And Hashem saw the earth and behold it was corrupted … for all flesh had corrupted its way upon the earth. Hashem said to Noach, ‘The end of all flesh has come before Me … and, behold, I am about to destroy them from the earth.” (Beraishis 6:11)
Here is what the Gemara says about robbery: “Rabbi Yochanan said: Come and see how great is the power of robbery, for the Generation of the Flood transgressed everything, yet the decree of their punishment was not sealed upon them until they stretched forth their hands in robbery.” (Sanhedrin 1081)
Robbery erases the dignity of the honest man, who acquires all his possessions by lawful means. This overturns the ideal of peaceful relations among mankind, such as that described in the possuk, “they will sit, each man under his vine and under his fig tree, and none will make them afraid ….” (Micah 4:4)
When robbery becomes widespread, the entire social fabric is ripped apart and men eat each other up in their hunger to acquire the objects of their desire. When this reaches the point of no return, society itself disintegrates. This is what happened in the days before the Great Flood.
The same scenario is playing itself out now on a worldwide basis. Not only is robbery out of control on a personal and social scale, but countries feel free to help themselves to the territory of other countries, creating wars and devastation for no reason other than their selfish desires.
An egregious instance of this is the attitude of the nations toward Israel, as if the Jews did not exist and Hashem had not given the Land eternally to us. The entire world seems to think that they own the Land of Israel and can dictate its fate.
This, my friends, is robbery.
In this week’s Parsha we meet Pinchas ben Elazar ben Aharon ha Kohain. His incredible greatness was the willingness to ignore what we call “social pressure” and carry out a heroic act of righteousness without any support whatsoever except the ratzon of the Master of the Universe. Pinchas ignored the opinion of the entire world.
From where did he get this strength? Undoubtedly from his Father Avraham, who ignored the hatred and jealousy of the entire world in order to serve the Master of the Universe.
The fact that Pinchas ben Elazar raised himself to this madreiga is an eternal lesson to us that it is possible to do what is right even if the entire world is on the other side. In the process, he saved thousands of his fellow Yidden from death when he stopped the plague. From this we can understand perhaps why Hashem presented him with the gift of eternal priesthood. What is a Kohain/priest other than a Jew who bridges the gap between his people and the Master of the Universe? To perform this avoda under such conditions is a Kiddush Hashem of supreme magnitude.
Now, when the world is filled with immorality and theft, when destruction threatens the planet because of our descent to the depths of depravity, precisely now we need a hero like Pinchas ben Elazar ben Aharon ha Kohain, a hero who will shine above the depraved culture around us and lead us to the heights of sanctity, preparing the world for the Geula Shelemah and the rebuilt Bais Hamikdosh, may we see it soon in our days!
Avoda: Service of Hashem
Bais Hamikdosh: Holy Temple
Geula Shelemah: Final Redemtion
Possuk: Sentence in the Torah
Ratzon Hashem: The will of Hashem