Thou Shalt Not Steal
The narrowest definition of the word “steal” refers to an action of taking possession of someone else’s property through dishonest means. The spirit of the law goes on to include any deception or dishonesty which causes loss to another or brings us benefit. But the spirit of the law encompasses so much more. The spirit of the law encourages us to desire honesty and despise greediness. Let us consider some of the applications of this commandment.
Public property belongs to everyone. And the individual’s right to use it is limited to the usage that the public designated this property for. Using public property for a use that was unintended by the agents of the public is a form of stealing.
Keeping money that was not justly earned is also stealing this includes charging for a service or a product and not delivering exactly what the customer was lead to believe that he or she would be getting. This would also apply to an employee wasting time that they are getting paid for. An employer who demands work or time from his or her employees that goes beyond the original agreement without just compensation is also stealing.
There are many types of deception that fall under the broad category of this commandment. Convincing an investor to put time and money into a business by painting a picture that is different from reality is dishonest. Encouraging an employee to join the workforce of a given company by insinuating that he or she will benefit in ways that do not match up with the facts on the ground is also stealing.
Then there is stealing time. Causing people to waste their time would also fall under the scope of this commandment. And there are so many ways that this injustice can be done.
Deceiving people into giving you recognition or honor that you do not deserve by projecting qualities that you do not possess is unjust. And withholding respect from people that do deserve respect is also dishonest.
Wasting someone’s emotional energy isn’t much different than needlessly wasting a material resource of your fellow man. And again, there are so many ways that this sin could be committed.
The commandment which prohibits us from benefiting from dishonesty is endless. The illustrations listed here barely scratch the surface of this broad directive. One rule of thumb that could guide us as we seek to become more just and more fair, is to remember the simple and obvious fact that we are biased when it comes to ourselves. In a situation of dispute between ourselves and another we cannot expect the disputants to be objective because we are all human. The rule of thumb would tell us to acknowledge the possibility that out perspective may be rooted in our own self-interest and be willing to consider another angle.
The eighth commandment is a general directive in life. It is an arrow pointing away from greed and pettiness and pointing toward the beauty of honesty and the light of justice. The journey demands attention, alertness and the ability to admit to mistakes. But it is the only path of life.
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Yisroel C. Blumenthal