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Parasha Miketz Explains “Thou Shalt Not Steal” and “Avoid The Government”

Miketz as a parasha is rich in detail and its midrashim – interpretations/commentaries and traditions – are formidable. In particular, these midrashim can explain to us the Commandment, “Thou Shalt Not Steal” and the advice of our Sages to “Avoid the Government,” found in Pirkei Avot (lit. Ethics of the Fathers).

Thou Shalt Not Steal

The Commandment “Do Not Steal” is interpreted by our sages as meaning “Do Not Kidnap.”

They base this interpretation on the context. Earlier in the same verse as “Thou Shalt Not Steal,” we find “Thou Shalt Not Murder” and “Thou Shalt Not Commit Adultery/Incest,” both of which are capital offenses. Do Not Steal must therefore be a capital offense. This method of interpretation is known as a hekesh.

Yet we know that halacha generally seeks any pretext to avoid imposing the death sentence. Further, the principle of midda-kenegged-midda (measure for measure) can’t logically lead us to impose the death sentence for theft.

As a result, the meaning of “Do Not Steal” can’t be what the literal reading suggests. It has to be something else, namely, kidnapping.

That’s my rough paraphrase of the sages interpretation of that Commandment (any mistakes are my own).

But that leaves us with a question – why does it mean kidnapping?

Can’t “Do Not Steal” mean¬† other sins that carry the death penalty. I don’t know how halacha deals with piracy, but you can imagine some other sin more accurately fitting the text, instead of kidnapping.

Miketz helps answer that problem.

The midrash informs us that Yosef, although superficially acting callously towards his brothers, was really showing them kindness.

There are various ways of doing teshuva, repentance, which depend on the sin done. In some more serious cases, one can either suffer in this world or in the next. By giving his brothers a hard time in this world, Yossef was allowing his brothers to avoid suffering in Olam Haba (the World to Come), a significantly worse fate.

One of the sins the brothers had committed was selling Yossef as a slave. To quote Rabbi Moshe Weissman’s interpretation in his book, “The Midrash Says,” “Since they kidnapped Yossaif and sold him, he returned their money to their sacks so that he could accuse them of being thieves.”

Kidnapping is first seen in the Torah with the sale of Yossef as a slave. We learn that the brothers gained financially from kidnapping.

Thus they ‘stole’ that profit, since their brother was not their slave to begin with.

(Even today, kidnapping and slavery are closely related, as youth from poor countries are sold for sex slaves elsewhere.)

“Avoid The Government”

This advice is generally commented on as helping one avoid fair-weather friends, as many in government will support whoever can increase their power and attack those who threaten their power.

In the story of Purim,  Esther summoned Haman and King Ahasueros (Artaxerxes) to a banquet, secretly planning to take down Haman in front of the Kind.

In Mikaitz, Yossaif invited his brothers to his palace for a meal, which they feared was a setup for further accusations.

Fun times in government!

Posted in Judaism.


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