“Do not be afraid of any man because the judgement is to Hashem.” The Torah instructs judges that they should not be intimidated by powerful people when they are deciding a Din Torah, the reason being that ‘the judgement is to Hashem’ - what does this mean? Rashi explains that when a person unjustly takes money from his fellow there is an injustice that needs to be fixed. Therefore Hashem must direct the hashgacha in such a way that the money will be returned to its true owner. In this way the judgement has been ‘placed’ in Hashem’s hands, forcing Him to correct the injustice done. Why is this so serious? Hashem deliberately limits Himself from too much obvious intervention in our lives so as not to interfere with our free will. If His presence was so obvious it would be much more difficult to sin and the balance of bechira would be effected. By causing Hashem to intervene to reimburse the victim of an injustice a person is indeed effecting this delicate balance.
There is another interesting point that we can learn out from this Rashi: When a person commits an aveira in diney mamonos he is not only transgressing in the realm of Bein Adam LeChaveiro but also in that of Bein Adam LeMakom. This point is of significance because there seems to be a tendency to approach Bein Adam LeMakom mitzvos with a different attitude from Bein Adam Lechaveiro mitzvos: When an observant Jew is offered a plate of food he would normally inquire as to the hechsher of the food before he eats it. If he is unclear as to the standards of the hechsher he will ask a shilo. In contrast, it is quite common that when a person is faced with a question as to paying taxes, for example, he is more likely to proceed without looking into the halachic validity of his actions. Perhaps the realisation that mamonos issues also involve Bein Adam LeMakom can motivate us to be more careful in them.
The Gemara supports the idea that mamonos is an area of natural human weakness; “Rav Yehuda in the name of Rav says, most people sin in the area of gezel..” This Gemara seems hard to understand - do most Jews go around stealing from others?! The Rashbam explains that the Gemara is not referring to outright stealing such as pick-pocketing or shoplifting. Rather it is referring to much more subtle and insidious forms of stealing in which people justify that what they are doing is mutar. The Gemara may also include forms of ‘gezel’ that come as a result of sheer carelessness. For the remainder of this article we will discuss some of those areas of halacha in monetary matters that are often neglected and observe how our Gedolim conducted themselves in these areas.
A classic example of carelessness is not returning borrowed items. It seems to be an all-too-common occurrence that people lend sefarim out and never see them again! Unless the lender intends to forgive failure to return the sefer, this constitutes a form of gezel. Of course people do not purposely intend to steal, but such negligence surely stems from a lack of respect for other people’s property. Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky zt”l was a living example of how to act in this area. On one occasion he was filling in a kesubah and used the chassan’s pen and forgot to return it to him amidst the hectic nature of the wedding. TWO YEARS later he met again with the pen owner and handed him the pen.
Another area in which there is a great yetser hara to be moreh heter is using other people’s items without express permission. There are many instances in which it is forbidden to assume that the owner will be mochel for someone to use his item without asking first. The ease at which one can be nichshal in this area is demonstrated in the following story. Rav Leib Chassid was the famous tzaddik of Kelm. In his later years he went out for a walk on the road between Kelm and Tavrig. One day a teenage boy driving a wagon passed by and offered him a ride. Reb Leib asked him if the wagon was his, and the by replied that it belonged to his father. “Did he give you permission to take passengers?” Reb Leib asked. The boy admitted that he had never discussed it with his father, adding, “Do I really need his permission for that?” “Yes”, said Reb Leib, “since you have not asked permission you would be a thief if you took any passengers into the wagon.” It is such sensitivity that is required in order to avoid erring in these halachos.
Avoiding paying taxes to non-Jewish governments is something which one can easily find justification for, however, this is often a violation of Dina d’Malchusa dina. A woman once asked Rav Kamenetsky why her family should not lie about their income in order to obtain food stamps when there was widespread cheating among other ethnic and racial groups to establish eligibility. “Simple” said Reb Yaakov, “they did not stand at Har Sinai, you did.” This answer is the first and most important step in beginning to be more zahir in areas of mamonos. A person can find numerous reasons to justify various hanhagos in monetary areas but he must remember that ultimately everything a Jew does should be based on what Hashem taught us on Har Sinai. Rav Yisroel Reisman Shlita devotes an entire shiur to conveying the message that whenever one is faced with an opportunity to make or save money he must first and foremost look to the words of Shulchan Aruch to determine whether or not this form of behaviour is allowed. This often means asking a shilo and not presuming that it is okay to cheat the taxes or go back on a monetery agreement. And even if it is common practise among ‘observant’ Jews to act in a certain questionable manner this is not an iron-clad proof that it is mutar to act in such a way.
A second step to avoid aveiros in mamonos is to be aware of the tremendous yetser hara of chemdas hamamon. The Gemara in Chagiga states that gezel is something that people have great taiva for. Because of this great yetser we must be extra careful and place fences that protect us from faltering. We learn just how far one must go to do this from Rav Yisroel Salanter zt”l. He once visited a wealthy man and was alone with him in a room. The man was called out for a few minutes but when he returned he was shocked to see that Rav Yisroel was not in the room. He looked everywhere for him and, to his great surprise was Rav Yisroel standing outside the house. Rav Yisroel explained that Chazal teach us that a minority of people sin in arayos whilst a majority sin in gezel: We know that it is forbidden to be alone in a room with an erva lest our yester hara overcome us. If the yester hara for gezel is stronger than that for arayos then we must learn out a kal v’chomer that it is assur to be alone with someone elses’ uncounted money! Rav Yisroel was of course the last person that one would expect would be nichshal in gezel, yet he made fences to protect him from its snares, surely we should emulate him.
We currently find ourselves in the nine days - a time of intense mourning for the Churban and the hester panim that accompanies it. Rav Mattisyahu Salomon Shlita suggests that carelessness in mamonos is a direct cause of hester panim: The Torah commands us to use accurate and honest weights and measures. Directly following this parsha comes the parsha of Amalek? What is the connection between these seemingly disparate inyanim?
The Netsiv explains that cheating in business undermines the basic tenets of Emuna and Bitachon. One who trusts that Hashem will provide for his parnosa will have no desire to break the Torah laws in order to acquire money. However, a person who is willing to cheat and be moreh heter in order to support himself demonstrates that he is not living with a belief that G-d is looking over him. Mida ceneged mida, Hashem says, ‘if you are acting as if I am not around then I will no longer be in your midst and protect you.’ Without heavenly protection we are open prey to our enemies.
Thus we have seen how negligence in diney mamonos is not just a transgression of our relationships with others, but also shows a severe lacking in one’s relationship with Hashem - one who feels the need to ‘bend the rules’ in order to gain or save money is ignoring the basic tenets of bitachon in Hashem. Let us learn from our Gedolim and try to be more zahir in at least one of the areas discussed here - whether it be, being more careful in returning borrowed items or not using other people’s items without permission, or being honest in business. But the most important aitsa is that which Rav Reisman stressed so much - every area of our lives is decided by Shulchan Aruch and we must always verify that our actions accord with its instructions.
What is the reward for zehirus in mamonos? The Yerushalmi in Makkos states that since the yetser hara to steal is so great, the reward to overcome this desire is proportionally great. “One who separates from [stealing] he and his descendants will benefit for every generation till the end of days.” May we all be zocheh to end the hester panim and bring Hashem back into our lives.