Please, Rabbis, Stop Telling Us It’s Bad to Steal
By David Suissa
When I hear rabbis get up and sermonize about the importance of not stealing money, I cringe.
When I hear them sermonize about the imperative of not cheating in life, I yawn.
When I hear them talk about collective Jewish shame from the unethical acts of Jews, my eyes glaze over.
And when I hear them tell me it’s “not easy” for them to talk about all this stuff, I don’t believe them.
I mean, please.
DON’T STEAL MONEY? BE ETHICAL? It takes courage to say that?
Don’t get me wrong. Stealing and cheating are terrible. Jews who steal and cheat are criminals. They are a disgrace and a shanda to all of us. I get it.
But is that all a rabbi can come up with?
Rabbis are supposed to push and challenge and surprise us—not bore us with the obvious.
Their job is to use the law not to bludgeon us, but to inspire us.
Of course, they need to remind us of the importance of leading an ethical life.
But why stop there? Why not go deeper? Why not go into the soul of the mitzvah?
For example, stealing and cheating are not just about money—they’re also about human relationships.
When you bore someone—either by being dull or pompous or self-righteous—you are stealing a piece of their time.
When you use selective facts to sell your point, you are cheating.
When you humiliate someone, you are robbing them of their dignity.
When you gossip or spread rumors about someone, you are killing a part of their name. When you are late for an appointment, when you break a promise, when you’re not truthful, one way or another, you are stealing and cheating.
We steal and cheat in a million little ways, and we do it every day. Sure, these daily steals and cheats are not as dramatic as a billion-dollar shanda on the evening news, but they’re just as dangerous to the cohesion of our families and communities. They corrode our relationships and leave lasting scars.
Rabbis who focus on big money shandas think that they’re challenging us. They’re not. They’re letting us off the hook. We hear them and we think, “Yes, this sucks. But I pay my taxes and I don’t steal, so this doesn’t really apply to me. Now I can go back to whining about a shanda this is for the Jews.”
The deeper ethical crisis in our communities is in the personal stuff—the stuff that’s hard to see. It’s in the way we treat each other while the cameras are not rolling.
The real shame is in the rabbis who haven’t yet figured this out.