The Problem With Stealing
The Thief's Accomplice
It once happened that a wave of thefts swept the countryside of Judea and the leaders of the communities affected met to debate what should be done. After lengthy consultation, the judges felt that the situation was critical and called for stringent measures. They therefore enacted a hora'at sha'ah (temporary emergency decree) that said:
"Every thief who is caught will be compelled to pay seven times the amount of his theft and the one who aids and abets him by hiding the stolen goods will be punished by death."
When the people heard of the decree, a wave of puzzlement and resentment swept through the area. Why should the accomplice be punished more than the thief? Why should he be given the death penalty when the thief is the one who commits the crime?
The leaders of the people, hearing of the reaction, called for a mass meeting to be held in the fields. All the people of the region gathered there to hear what the judges had to say. When all had arrived, the judges issued an order, "Go out and catch some field mice and bring them here."
The people scattered and soon came back with' a number of mice they had succeeded in capturing. The judges thereupon declared, "Now, place grains of wheat before the mice and let them go."
As soon as this was done, the mice pounced upon the wheat, ran off to their holes and quickly hid it there. The judges now turned to the people and said, "Have you seen what the mice did? They took the wheat and ran off to their holes. Now go back to your homes and return tomorrow."
Seal The Holes
The puzzled populace returned to their homes unable to understand what the judges meant by all they were told to do. Meanwhile, the judges turned to several hunters and trappers they had kept behind and said, "Go once more and catch the mice, but this time seal up their holes."
The hunters did as they were told. The following morning the people gathered again. as they had been asked to, and once more the judges gave orders that the mice be let loose and grain placed in front of them. Once again the mice seized the grain and took off for
their holes. This time, however, to their chagrin they found the holes sealed. Instinctively, they all raced back to where the original bundle of grain had been and returned it there.
Seeing this, the judges turned to the people and said, "You have seen what happened. You have seen that without the holes the mice did not steal. It is the same with the thief. If he knows that he will have no place to hide his ill-gotten gains, he will be afraid to steal. This is why the one who abets him is the principal target"
Cunning And Trickery
Even among the Jewish people there existed thieves and connivers despite the Biblical admonition against stealing and dishonesty. One such man was named Ben Tolomayon.
He was a fantastically cunning and crooked individual who was constantly mouthing pious phrases, lauding justice and charity and honesty. Inwardly, however, he was a crook. Nevertheless, he succeeded in fooling many people and gradually gained a reputation for being an honest and upright person.
It so happened that a certain individual in the town decided to go away on a long journey. He began to worry about a sizeable sum of money that he had. Where could he leave it in his absence so that it would be safe?
While discussing the problem with certain business associates, they suddenly suggested, "Why not leave it with Ben Tolomayon? There is surely no more honest or upstanding man than he."
The man thought the idea over and agreed that it was a good one. The following morning he came to the home of Ben Tolomayon. He knocked on the door and was admitted into the presence of the shrewd swindler.
"Good morning, Ben Tolomayon. I have a great favor that I desire to ask of you_ And knowing of your kindness, I know you will not refuse me."
"Why, I will only be too happy to be of any possible service to you," said Ben Tolomayon, wondering what was in the mind of his visitor.
"I intend to go on a journey," the man explained, .and I have a rather large sum of money that I am afraid to leave in the hands of any, but the most honest of people. Your name is known throughout the city as just such a person. I beg of you to allow me to leave this money in your hands until I return."
Ben Tolomayon literally smacked his lips at the thought of coming into possession of a large sum of money. He already knew what to do with it.
"My friend," he said. "Have no fear. I will be more than happy to do you this favor, though the responsibility will weigh heavily upon me. I can assure you
that you need lose no sleep over your money. I shall consider it as my very own."
"Thank you, thank you, my friend," said the man in gratitude. Taking out the money, he gave it to Ben Tolomayon and with much formality bid him adieu until he returned.
The cunning thief took the money and put it away. The weeks passed and, finally, the owner of the money returned home. Going to the home of his "friend," he said, "Dear Ben Tolomayon, I have returned and ask you to please return the money you were so kind to hold for me."
The swindler looked at the man in feigned surprise, "My dear friend, surely you are jesting. Why, I returned the money to you. Do you not remember?"
The man turned pale and gasped. "What are you talking about? I just recently returned. You gave me back no money."
Ben Tolomayon now assumed an air of anger. Sir, a joke can only go so far. If it is your purpose to swindle
me out of money it will not work."
The furious man saw that Ben Tolomayon was really a swindler and he hurried off to court. There he made known his charges and a summons was issued to Ben Tolomayon to answer the man. Ben Tolomayon agreed to come but, before leaving, he took a hollowed out cane and put the money inside. Then, he went off to court.
"Ben Tolomayon," said the judges, "it is alleged that you, as a shomer chinam (a guardian without compensation), stole the money entrusted to you. Is this true? If not, you must swear according to law."
The clever thief said, "Certainly, I will swear" Then, turning to the furious plaintiff, he said, "Would you please hold my cane for me while I swear?"
Then Ben Tolomayon took his oath, saying, "I have returned the money to the plaintiff."
The latter grew livid with anger at what he knew to be an outright falsehood and, in his fury, raised the cane and smashed it on the floor, where it broke, scattering all the money.
As the astonished court looked on, Ben Tolomayon declared, "It is as I swore. I did return the money to you. Now, pick it up and take it."
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