Is there a person on Earth that has never hurt
another, intentionally or unintentionally? Is there anyone
that has not failed or fallen in some way?
As human beings, we all have our shortcomings and our share
of transgressions. Whether we have lapsed and betrayed ourselves,
others or G-d (or all the above), whether it may have been
“small” white crimes or grave sins, everyone
of us knows in his or her heart, when we are honest with
ourselves, some of the ugly things we are capable of.
But don’t feel all alone. Ecclesiastics declared long ago
“there is no tzaddik on Earth that has done good and not
sinned” (7:20). On the other hand, let us not console ourselves
with that fact.
This week’s Torah portion deals with many of our human
ways of harming each other.
It is always humbling to read the verses of this portion.
We often can soar into the sublime, with lofty, spiritual
concepts. The power of Torah’s spirituality is that
it is not divorced from our earthly realities. We must ground
our deepest soulfulness in our day-to-day, profane lives.
The challenge is to fuse spirit and matter, to fight the
battle and allow our souls to dominate over our selfish,
greedy, mindless and reckless temptations.
And thus, following the sublime Sinai experience (in last
week’s portion), we are quickly reminded (in this
week's chapter) of our all too human frailties, and what
we are capable of left unchecked.
Yet, this portion is not meant to depress us. Quite the
contrary. By recognizing our weaknesses and potential failings,
by being accountable and assuming responsibility, by rectifying
our errors – we actually demonstrate the ultimate
human dignity: To repair a broken a world. After all, trust
is built not on perfection but on accountability. It is
human to err; it is Divine to repair. When we rise to the
occasion and correct a crime of the past, we manifest the
majestic Divine Image in which were created – the
ability to transcend our mortality, go beyond our humanity,
our offenses, even beyond our pasts, and come out stronger
than before the fall.
It would be wise and healthy for our business and political
“leaders,” and for that matter, for every one
of us – especially the ones that helped create the
current mess – to sit down and quietly read some of
these verses, if for no other reason than to realign our
sights to what it means to be truly human: The gift, responsibility
and obligation to be contrite and accountable, to correct
our wrongs and live up to the highest standard of our life’s
But there is something even more. This week's Torah
portion contains a strange passage: In discussing the laws
of burglary, the Torah distinguishes between a burglar that
comes in hiding, at night, and one who robs in broad daylight.
Regarding the latter, the expression used is this: “If
the sun shines on him, he has blood,” meaning that
if he robs in broad daylight, or it is clear that he has
no deadly intent, then if he is killed it is considered
murder (“he has blood” which has been wrongly
The verses are coming to teach us the penalties of stealing.
Yet, in the name of true virtue and justice, the Torah is
also concerned with the welfare of the thief, that though
he has committed a crime, one still has to recognize his
rights and not wantonly kill him. But why use a misleading
positive expression: “If the sun shines on him?!”
It would have been much clearer to simply state “if
it happens in broad daylight,” or “if his intentions
are clear.” The cryptic “if the sun shines on
him” suggests that even the thief has at times the
virtue that “the sun shines on him.”
They tell the story of a young widow who once came crying
to the Baal Shem Tov. “I recently lost my husband.
Now my young child, my only child, is lying gravely ill.
The doctors have given up hope. Please, Baal Shem Tov, please
do something to save my child.”
The Baal Shem Tov, whose heart was always open especially
to the needy and oppressed, soothed and reassured her saying
that she should go home and her child will be fine. He then
proceeded to gather together ten (a minyan) of
his holy hidden Tzaddikim, to pray for the child’s
welfare and immediate healing.
But to no avail. As much as they tried opening their souls
and in turn opening the gates of heaven, they sadly were
unsuccessful. The Baal Shem Tov sensed that the decree in
heaven was sealed and could not be reversed by the Tzaddikim’s
The Baal Shem Tov, however, was not one to take no for
an answer and give up. He fell upon an idea. He asked his
wagon driver to prepare the wagon and the horses. They were
going for a trip to the forest. He directed the driver to
go to a particular spot, which surprised the driver, being
that this was known to a be a dangerous area where thieves
lurked, and everyone would avoid.
They arrived at the designated spot. The Baal Shem Tov
climbed off the wagon, and within a few moment he was, to
the chagrin of the driver, surrounded by several thieves.
When the head of the band of thieves saw that it was the
Baal Shem Tov, he put down his weapon and with wonder and
astonishment asked: “Baal Shem Tov, what are you doing
here in the wild?”
The Baal Shem Tov replied: “Listen, I need to speak with
you. I need your help.” All of them wondered what possible
help could the Baal Shem Tov need from lowly thieves. The
Baal Shem Tov continued speaking to the band leader: “I
need you to gather ten of your thieves and come with me
to pray for a sick child.” The head thief didn’t understand,
but since the Baal Shem Tov was requesting he complied.
He gathered a minyan of his partners in crime,
and they prayed with the Baal Shem Tov.
The child miraculously recovered.
Later, when the Baal Shem Tov was asked by his surprised
students, “how were you able to accomplish with ten
thieves more than you could have accomplished with ten Tzaddikim?!”
the Baal Shem Tov replied: “Simple. I saw that all
the gates in heaven were locked. And I needed someone to
So, even a thief has times when “the sun shines on
him” and “he has blood.”
This does not condone theft or any other crime. It teaches
us, that once a person has transgressed, he has the power
not only to correct his ways, but his very crimes can teach
him and all of us new ways to “break in” and
reach heights that honest people can never reach.
And this is the ultimate redemption of our past wrongs,
and also the ultimate expression of the Divine Image in
each human: The power and ability to transform
our pasts. To use the newfound knowledge and methods that
came from illicit sources to open up unprecedented channels
of holiness and sanctity.
Now, let us see if the “leaders” of our time can do the
same with our economy. We too have a few thieves today that
may learn some of these lessons. But before we hold our
breaths, let us each apply this lesson to our own personal
lives. Rather than wait for the establishment to create
changes, grass roots have the power to create a revolution