Mishpatim: Holy Thieves



What do we do with pasts that we are ashamed of?

One of the greatest dilemmas in life is dealing with mistakes that we have made: Can we redeem our past sins or even crimes in any sense of the word – where we have hurt others either out of ignorance or malice?

This week’s Torah reading takes up laws of behavior between human beings, and it states: “If a burglar … robs in broad daylight, to kill him would be an act of murder.”

The Torah verses which come before and after this statement are clearly meant to teach us the penalties for stealing. Yet, in the middle of it all, the Torah is also concerned with the welfare of the thief! In the name of true justice, the Torah still recognizes his rights and seeks to protect his life, even though he has committed a crime.

Why does the Torah care so much about the thief?

A colorful Baal Shem Tov story illustrates for us the virtues even of a … thief, teaching us how we have the power not only to correct our ways, but our very transgressions can become tools for good, for they can help us reach spiritual heights which those who have not transgressed can never reach.


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