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The Straw that Broke the Camelís Back

Rabbi Moshe Lieber

Parshat Noach

Oct 21, 2009

The world was full of idolatry, murder and gross immorality and yet Hashem sealed the decree and brought the Flood because of theft. “The end of all flesh has come before Me for the earth is filled with robbery through them”. Why was robbery seen as so severe a sin that it sealed their fate?

The Dubno Maggid offers a stunning parable: A man made a banquet for his friends and acquaintances serving them the finest foods and wines. Suddenly he was shocked to see the guests grabbing food from each others plates amidst screaming, cursing, pushing and fisticuffs. He quickly pulled the table away from the guests and announced “Now you have nothing to fight over”.

The world and its legitimate pleasures are the feast that Hashem prepares for our benefit. He skimps on nothing and prepares enough for each of us. When we take things from others, or deal dishonestly, we essentially declare that we don’t believe He can provide for all of us. In our corrupt view we think that someone else can take away what Hashem intended for us and that the only way to insure our share is to take from others.

R’ Moishe Heschel, the Kapischnitzer Rebbe zt”l made a living as a diamond merchant before becoming Rebbe. One day he met a Yeshivah rebbi who looked dejected. “What’s the matter” asked R’ Moishele. The young man explained that since he had difficulty supporting his growing family on a rebbi’s salary he decided to try his hand at selling diamonds after teaching. Relatives of his who were in the business were kind enough to tell him where he could buy gems and where he could have them processed. “But nobody will give me leads about potential customers” concluded the melamed. R’ Moishe told him to drop by his home that evening. When he arrived R’ Moishe began to read names from a small address book. “Write these names down; all of them” he told the young man. The melamed realized that R’ Moishe was giving him his own customers and objected. R’ Moishele brushed his objections off .In Yiddish he said “Vus iz in himmel geshribben far mir ken keiner nisht unririn (Nobody can touch what is written in Heaven as mine)”

When robbery became rampant Hashem figuratively pulled the table away as if to say “Now you won’t have what to fight about”.

Divrei Shaul submits a variation on this theme: A stork stuck its long beak into the lake and caught a fish. Before the stork could swallow it the fish opened its mouth and began pleading for mercy. “Please “the fish implored “don’t kill me. Don’t destroy one of God’s creatures”. As the fish was speaking a small fish was dislodged from its mouth. The stork exclaimed “You fraud! You plead for mercy and want me to spare you! Where was your mercy when you devoured your fellow fish?!

While all kinds of terrible sins might have indicted the generation, Hashem in His mercy delayed punishing them. Once however they cruelly and callously robbed from each other Hashem was unwilling to be merciful. Hashem is mans shadow .When we are merciful towards others He will display mercy towards us. But when cruelty, in the form of gross disrespect for personal property, carries the day, we cannot expect compassion from Above.

Theft did not cause them to be punished; it caused Hashem to withhold His Mercy. Therefore theft was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

We can take two life’s lessons away from this aspect of the Parashah. Compassion for the plight of others is the key to unlock the Divine compassion we so desperately need. Secondly let Hashem provide for you; you need not take from others what is rightfully yours.

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