The Mystery of the Missing Milk

A yungerman makes the case for rethinking our attitude towards the eighth commandment.

Yisroel yawned for the 14th time. He felt bad that his chavrusa had to contend with a sluggish study partner, but what could he do? If the draining Kolel schedule wasn’t taxing enough, his constant search for a shlichus opportunity really left him a wreck. 

Craving a much needed caffeine boost, Yisroel made his way over to the coffee station. He reached into the fridge and withdrew an empty milk bottle labeled ‘Yisroel G.’ Annoyed, he returned to his table and vented to his chavrusa, “This is the second time this week that my personal stash of milk has mysteriously disappeared, and it’s only Tuesday!”

The next morning Yisroel deposited a bottle of milk into the fridge. It was labeled “Yisroel G. Do Not Take. There is a מ”ע of ואהבת לרעך כמוך. Please respect personal property!”. But alas it was to no avail; by lunchtime the bottle was empty.

With new resolve Yisroel arrived the next morning bearing a fresh bottle. This bottle was marked “Yisroel G. Do Not Take. There is a ל”ת of לא תגזול. If you take you are stealing!”. Sure enough, by the time Yisroel needed a coffee, the milk was gone.

Several days later, Yisroel sat in his place holding a full cup of coffee bearing a smug grin. “Nobody took your milk?!” his chavrusa exclaimed in surprise. “It’s all about what you write on the label” Yisroel victoriously explained to him. He lifted up the bottle, exposing the label which read ‎”Beware, חלב עכו”ם.”

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‎This story is both funny and sad. If Yisroel had left $2 unattended near his sefer, it would be exactly where he left it when he came back. A Kollel yungerman would never steal! Right?

There is a clear disconnect present in this story. Stealing can assume many forms including referral fraud, exploiting return policy loopholes or simply taking someone’s personal stash of coffee creamer without permission. Some of these may not even be illegal, but they are still dishonest, even if they don’t require a balaclava and getaway car.

It makes a rather peculiar impression on Shabbos guests when a yeshiva bochur who so eloquently repeated a sicha demanding the study of Torah, fulfillment of mitzvos all to make a dira b’tachtonim, boasts about the latest ploy to milk undue benefits from a particular company.

The stereotype of frum Jews stealing money is an oxymoron by definition. It’s just wrong. The antisemitic caricature of the money-hungry Jew stamped with a star of David and bearing a disproportionately large nose, is nothing more than a figment of the imagination of a rabid Jew hater. It has no basis in reality, for one who is truly frum heeds the Torah’s every word. For the truly frum Yid it would be as unthinkable to engage in dishonest behavior as it would be to eat treif or cholov akum.

Yiddishkeit is a manner of living that prioritizes Divine service above all else. One who subscribes to this lifestyle finds his material pursuits pushed to the back burner as he is entirely occupied with loftier aspirations. The frum Jew recognizes the Source of his parnassa, and not just when he is in dire straits. He isn’t always on the lookout to make a quick buck, especially one acquired through dishonest means.

The Rebbe urged us, his chassidim, to claim our role as “a light unto the nations.” Our mission is to explain to the world that the the seven laws of Noach are an obligation for all of mankind.‎ Picture a bochur standing on a street corner preaching to a passing pedestrian about “the importance of the sheva mitzvos, and how if they are neglected the world will lapse into anarchy.” It is impossible to reconcile this impassioned speech with any kind of dishonest venture.

Aside from doing the right thing for oursleves, we also have the responsibility to make a Kiddush Hashem. Yes, it is a struggle. A supernatural effort is required to be a ‘model human being’; however, we are expected to rise to the occasion, regardless of what everyone else is doing.

If you think about it, for a Yid to engage in dishonest practices is absurd. “Cheaters never prosper-” literally! On the first day of the year, Hashem determines our financial fate. It is up to our discretion if we want to receive our earnings through honest or shady means. Hashem is a fair banker. Mysterious expenses may materialize to balance the score. Even if in the moment it seems that one can get away with it and get ahead, at the end of the day a person will not have one penny more than what was allocated for him.

This is by no means a pleasant topic. On the contrary, it is rather painful to discuss. But it looks like commandment number eight needs some time in the spotlight. Let us give it the attention it deserves and make a concerted effort to correct our behavior. May we all strengthen our commitment to halacha and in that merit receive unimaginably inflated parnassa, allowing us to focus on our life’s mission.

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