Thou shalt not steal!

This week’s portion is Yitro (Jethro), Exodus 18:1 – 20:23. Jethro the Priest of Midyan was Moses father-in-law who was a very well known man in his native country. He was also a man of many names and who tried every faith and theology known to man. Such a man would certainly become jaded about the various religions. But not Jethro. After he heard about the parting of the Red Sea and the miracles of the deliverance from both Egypt and Amalek, Jethro left a comfortable existence, considerable wealth and fame in his native country to join the Israelites in their sojourn through the barren desert.

But if that is not enough, Jethro proved himself to be a consultant and troubleshooter par excellence. Recognizing a huge bottleneck in the legal system, Jethro proposed that Moses constitute a hierarchical legal system whereby only the toughest cases come to Moses. Jethro was in reality the inventor of the modern-day legal system of tiered courts: state courts, federal courts, district courts, courts of appeals and the Supreme court. A true maverick.

Ultimately however, Jethro was inclined to return to his native land after paying his courtesy visit and uniting his daughter and grandchildren, Eliezer and Gershom, with their husband and father. Only the promise of a security blanket and his own parcel of land finally coaxed Jethro to become a full-fledged Israelite.

This weekly portion also describes the evolution of the Jews as the chosen people, culminating with the delivery of the ten commandments on Mount Sinai. Fire and brimstone, the Israelites wet their pants when God himself transmitted to them the 10 commandments (well not really, but figuratively for sure).

One of the best-known commandments is Thou shalt not steal! But it will certainly surprise many readers to learn that according to the Talmud, as espoused by the Bible commentaries, this commandment is not related to theft in the classical sense. The commandment to not steal money or goods is recorded in Leviticus – Chapter 19, 11: You shall not steal. You shall not deny falsely. You shall not lie, one man to his fellow.

The commandment of Thou shalt not steal! which appears in the ten commandments is concerned with kidnapping human beings and forcibly selling them as slaves. Or in other words, thou shalt not steal a human being. And how do the commentaries learn this? It’s all about the context. Since the commandments preceding Thou shalt not steal! ( Thou shalt not kill and Thou shalt not commit adultery) are capital crimes, it follows that Thou shalt not steal! is also punishable by death. And since stealing money and goods is not a capital offense, it follows that this commandment is about a theft which is punishable by death.

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