In this week’s Torah reading, Parshas Vayetzei, our forefather Jacob worked for his father-in-law, Lavan, as a shepherd. At a certain point, they agreed that whichever new animals would be born with a certain appearance would belong to Jacob as payment for his work.
Lavan then removed the existing animals with that appearance from the flock and placed them in the flocks that were not under Jacob’s care. The verse tells us (31:10) that Jacob dreamed that these animals came back to join his flock. Rashi tells us that this was actually what happened in reality. Angels were sent from Heaven to retrieve these animals and bring them to Jacob’s flock.
At first glance, this might strike us as dishonest for Jacob to keep these animals, and it seems perplexing for angels to do such a thing. However, the verses further tell us that in truth, Lavan was the dishonest one who kept on not giving Jacob what was due to him. All the angels did was return to Jacob what rightfully really belonged to him.
The Chofetz Chaim (Shmiras Halashon, 2:11) says that the Torah is hereby giving us an example of how God runs the world. As our sages tell us (Derech Eretz Zuta, chapter 3), “If you take that which does not belong to you, what is yours will be taken away from you.”
No one can earn a penny more than what is decreed in Heaven that he should earn. If one wishes to obtain money through illicit means, he will gain nothing. If he was not intended to get the extra funds, Heaven will arrange for him to lose them, one way or another. By the same token, if Heaven had decreed for him to have an additional gain, he would have gotten the same amount of money without any dishonest conduct. If he chose to get the money by forbidden means, all he did is get the same money he was destined to get, but through an act of sin for which he will be punished.
There was once a young man who would go to study Torah late at night on a regular basis. One night, on his way to study, he noticed that the door to the house of a wealthy widow that was accidentally left open. There was no one in the house other than the widow and her maid who slept in one room where the riches were stored, so the young man went inside. They did not wake up when the young man entered, and he was tempted to break into the trunk where the wealth was kept. He broke the trunk and was about to run off with the goods when he remembered the teaching of the Talmud that his rabbi would preach. “No one can touch that which is designated for his friend, even a hair’s breadth.” (Yoma, 38b)
He realized that whatever he was destined to get, he would anyway receive. If he is meant to have this money, he will get it in permissible ways. If he’s not meant to have it, it won’t help to steal. There is no point in committing a sin to get this money. He immediately put the money back and left.
Meanwhile, the widow had woken up from the noise of the break-in, but she was terrified that the perpetrator might be armed, so she pretended to be sleeping. In the morning, she was surprised to see that nothing had been stolen. She viewed this as a one-time miracle and decided it would be a good idea to remarry and have a husband to protect her. She went to the local Yeshivah (School for Talmud study) and asked the Rosh Yeshivah (dean) to suggest a match for her.
The young man who had broken in the night before happened to be sitting there at the time, and the Rosh Yeshivah recommended him as being a fine, God-fearing gentleman. Indeed, they got married, and the young man ended up enjoying the wealth without committing any theft.
We may not be tempted to break into a bank. But from time to time, situations arise in our lives in which we might be tempted to gain in manners that may not be completely honest. Not only is it wrong to do so, it is completely pointless! There is absolutely no way to gain more than what Heaven allotted you. Whatever share is destined for you, you can obtain it through permissible ways. Obtaining money in forbidden ways will earn nothing other than the hefty charges one will have to face one day in the Heavenly Court.
Parshas Vayetzei by Rabbi Yitzchok Aryeh Strimber (email@example.com)