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Parshas Vayigash - What Would You Do?         6 Teves 5779

12/13/18 23:48:16


Recently, I was shopping in one of the local grocery stores when I noticed a woman who appeared to be homeless. There is no need for me to explain how I knew she was homeless, I have enough experience in knowing. She was lurking around the exit of the store with a box of holiday cookies held snugly around a few layers of clothing combined with other garment material. After I checked out, I saw her walking out of the store with the box of cookies. She was mumbling and talking out loud. I watched her eating the from the box of cookies at the far side of the parking lot. I stood there, faced with a dilemma. Should I go back into the store and inform the manager or mind my own business and just leave? On the one hand stealing is wrong no matter who it is. Just because a person is homeless or very poor does not give them the right to shoplift and steal. In fact, some say that prices of goods and merchandise are priced higher to build in more profit to offset the loss as a result of theft. This, in turn, causes higher prices to be charged. These extra costs are then passed on to the honest, law-abiding citizens. On the other hand, one can argue that the loss is so insignificant; the benefit of helping someone in society outweighs the wrong of stealing. I chose the latter and got into my car and sped off as if nothing had happened.

What is the law? Is there a legal duty to report a crime? For the most part, civilians are not required to report a crime if they see one. However, there are certain crimes that impose a mandatory reporting requirement for certain people. For instance, if school staff, medical personnel, and even parents witness child abuse or neglect and fail to report it, they could be liable. Most of the time, ordinary citizens are not legally required to report a crime or to do anything to stop it. In other words, there is no general duty to be a “good Samaritan”. But the exceptions are surprisingly widespread. Surely, a violent crime is different compared to light stealing such as shoplifting cookies from a grocery store. What would you do if you saw someone shoplifting? What does the Torah have to say about this kind of situation? Interestingly, a similar sketch can be noted in last week’s parsha Mikeitz and told over again this week.

In this week’s Parshas Vayigash Yehuda approaches Yosef, the viceroy of Egypt, to plead his case on behalf of himself and his brothers. The Torah states in Bereishis 44:30 “V’Ata K’Voee El Avdecha Avi V’Hanaar Einenu Itanu, V’Nafsho Keshura B’Nafsho”: “And now, when I come to your servant our father, the lad will not be with us”. We are familiar from the end of last week’s Parsha how Binyamin, the lad in this discussion, was caught stealing the ‘cup’ of the viceroy. In Bereishis 44:1-2 the Torah states: “Joseph gave his overseer special instructions. “Fill the men’s packs with as much food as they can carry” he said. “Place each man’s money at the top of his pack. And my chalice - the silver chalice - place it on top of the youngest one’s pack, along with the money for his food. After the brothers left Egypt, Joseph said to his overseer, “Set out and pursue those men. Catch up with them and say to them, ‘Why did you repay good with evil? It’s the cup from which my master drinks and uses it for divination. You did a terrible thing.”

  1. this point, when Binyamin is accused of stealing the goblet (after being framed), why didn’t the brothers defend him by denying it and saying it was a set up? The Meam Loez, Rabbeinu Bachya and others explain that at that moment the brothers smacked Binyamin harshly between his shoulder blades. They yelled at him and said, “Ganaf Ben Genaft!” – “A thief the son of a thieftess.” Binyamin’s mother, Rachel, was accused of stealing the Teraphim - her father’s idols - so he would stop worshipping them. Binyamin yells back at his brothers and says, “You have such chutzpah, speaking and accusing me of this. This accusation of me stealing pales in comparison to your sin of selling my brother and creating a lie to our father of my brother being killed.” The brothers accused Binyamin when there was nothing, no substantial reason to accuse him. Later, in verse 13, they end up rending their garments as a sign of shame for this accusation. They automatically jumped to a conclusion without thinking of any other possibility or reason why Binyamin had the viceroy’s cup. Imagine if we had the hindsight to know the scenario of every situation that draws our own conclusions about others.

The story did not end with me just driving away. I was half way home and this predicament was gnawing at me the entire time. So, I turned around and headed back to the grocery store. But instead of looking for the manager, I went to the holiday cookie shelf that was prominently on display, and lo and behold there was one package missing. This space must be where the package of cookies had been which the homeless lady took. I took another bag of cookies, walked to the register and bought the cookies. As the clerk turned to give me my receipt, I handed him the bag of cookies to put back on the shelf and explained what I had witnessed and in an after-the-fact case bought the homeless person a bag of cookies. The store was not out the money, the woman received a free bag of cookies and, for me, my mind would be at rest.

If the story had ended there it would sound incredible and people might pat me on the back for my being a good Samaritan. Fortunately, and unfortunately, the manager (who knows me) was now at the very next register. I went over and explained what I had done, basically giving him a heads up of the possibility that this person may come back again and be tempted to take something else after being successful the first time. To my utter astonishment, embarrassment, humiliation and shame, she nonchalantly said to me, “Oh her?! Oh no. She did pay for the cookies!!!”

  1. all take a lesson from this incident. We need to think about who, why, and what is going on regarding a person and a situation before drawing some harsh, and very possibly false claims. Unless someone is in mortal danger, there is no reason to interfere in something that we may not fully understand. An individual whom we suspect of having committed a crime may not have done anything wrong. This homeless person didn’t do anything. The results: the suspect is innocent, but the accuser is guilty.

Ah Gut Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Sat, December 14 2019 16 Kislev 5780