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Why Pay Double?

By: Rabbi Barak Bar-Chaim

The Torah distinguishes between two types of thieves: 1) a thief who steals at night or in a secretive way (termed a Ganav), and 2) a thief who steals brazenly in broad daylight (termed a Gazlan). It is fascinating that the Torah demands different consequences for the Ganav and the Gazlan. Gazlan (who openly steals) is simply required to return/repay what has been stolen. A Ganav, on the other hand, must pay the victim double the amount stolen. The thief who steals in secret has a more severe consequence than the brazen thief. This seems counter intuitive. What is the rationale behind this?

Our sages explain that a brazen thief is consistent in that he/she neither fears people nor God. Whereas the Ganav fears people more than God. He/she fears being caught by human beings but does not fear the omnipresent God. In this sense, a Ganav’s act (stealing in a secretive way) is more egregious than the Gazlan’s act (stealing openly). This explains why the Ganav must pay an additional penalty, but why not make the penalty half the value of the money stolen or three times the amount stolen? Why is the penalty exactly double the amount stolen?

In his epic work Likutei Halachot, Rebbe Nosson explains (based on a teaching of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov) that vision always requires two phases. Light must first travel to the object and then reflect from the object to the viewer. The Ganav is, in a sense, denying that God is seeing his/her actions, and therefore does not fear God. From a human’s perspective, God’s vision/awareness is rays of light travelling from heaven, reflecting off earthly objects/events and carried to God’s ‘eyes.’ The Ganav pays double because he/she does not fear this divine vision/awareness of earthly activity. The Ganav denies the proverbial light travelling to earth and then reflecting earthly happenings back to God. Since the Ganav denies this two-part process of divine vision, he/she must pay twice (double) the amount stolen.

Friends, when we are honest with ourselves, we begin to realize that the weakness of the discrete thief is a weakness that we also share. This is best illustrated by an insightful Talmudic teaching. When Raban Yochanan Ben Zakai was on his death bed, his students said to him: “Our teacher, bless us.” He said to them: “May it be His will that the fear of Heaven shall be upon you like the fear of flesh and blood.” Puzzled, his students responded: ”To that degree?” (and not beyond? Shouldn’t one fear God more?). He said to them: “If only a person would achieve that level of fear. You should realize this because when one commits a transgression, he says to himself ‘I hope that no man will see me.’”

Let us be aware of God’s constant presence and reach the lofty level of being as concerned with God’s approval as we are with the approval of other human beings.