Home > Divrei Torah > Parashat Vayikra

Parashat Vayikra

March 18, 2008

By Mark Getman

(Leviticus) is the name not only of this week’s parashah, but also of the entire third book of the Torah. Though the book has much to say about the sacrificial system, it also teaches us how we should interact with our fellow Jews and other human beings. Although written thousands of years ago Vayikra lays the foundation for law and order in society, an order that can be applied to contemporary times.

In Chapter 5, verses 20-24, we read: The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: If a person will sin and commit a treachery against The Lord by lying to his comrade regarding a pledge or a loan or a robbery: or by defrauding his comrade; or he found a lost item and denied it – and he swore falsely about any of all the things that a person can do and sin thereby – so it shall be that when he will sin and become guilty, he shall return the robbed item, or the proceeds of his fraud, or the pledge that was left with him, or the lost item that he found, or anything about which he had sworn falsely – he shall repay its principal and add its fifth to it; he shall give it to its owner on the day he admits his guilt.

The passage speaks about a person who cheats or robs his fellow man, but the Torah tells us that this is treachery “against the Lord.” How is this treachery or a sin against God? The sins mentioned in the Torah – theft, fraud, or the pocketing of a lost item found and not trying to return it to its owner – are usually considered interpersonal sins.

These sins can take on new forms in today’s world. Many people may not realize that they are committing a fraudulent act when they pretend to be someone else, or go online in a chat room and portray themselves dishonestly. We find this to be a common practice on online dating and on social networking sites.

When people commit an act of theft or fraud they hope that no one is watching them and that they can ultimately deny any involvement in the wrong doing. I have had experience in this: when I was in my technical school training for the National Guard this past summer. I had just graduated basic training and as a gift my parents bought me a large backpack that I brought with me from basic training. I had to go into the field for training for a week, and left my new backpack in my locker. When I came to my room, and opened my locker, I realized that my backpack was missing. The new roommate happened to have an identical bag next to his bed, and I explained to him that I had it before leaving a week ago and now it was missing. He felt sorry, for my situation and “offered” to give me his backpack in exchange and informed me that I would be better off to switch rooms.

Luckily, I found another room with another roommate whom I happened to know from basic training. Over the next 17 weeks I heard that other soldiers also had belongings stolen from them while they were in the field training. One day, while I was sitting in the break room, we saw military police detectives come in and about 20 minutes later my former roommate was being escorted out in handcuffs, arrested for stealing. Luckily I got back my backpack, but it would have been far better had they returned my small Jewish prayer book that was in one of the pockets.

If you consider that those who commit theft and fraud do so because they believe that no one is watching, one might understand how this is considered treachery against God, for they deny that they are committing these acts under a watchful eye. When a person is acting in secrecy to steal or defraud another person s/he is denying God’s existence. As the Talmud says, a thief is doubly blameworthy because “he acts as if the Eye of Heaven does not see.” (Bava Qama 79b) God’s presence is everywhere, witnessing our thoughts and our actions. Faith in God’s omnipresence is a necessary component of a stable and healthy society.

Mark H Getman is currently a Rabbinical Student at the Academy of Jewish Religion, in the Mechina Program, and is a 2nd LT in the NY Army National Guard, training to become a military Chaplain.