By Rabbi Berach Steinfeld
The Gemara in Brachos, daf heh, amud bais brings a story about Rav Huna. Rav Huna had four hundred barrels of wine that all turned sour and became vinegar. Reb Yehuda and the other chachamim visited Rav Huna and told him that the reason this happened is because he did not share the cut branches with his sharecropper. Rav Huna responded, “They are robbing me and don’t even leave me any fruit!” The chachamim responded that a ganev follows another ganev and then tastes the taste of stealing. Hashem punished Rav Huna mida kneged mida; the wine went bad because he tasted the taste of geneiva. Rav Huna responded by saying, “I am mekabel upon myself to pay them.” The gemara brings two opinions about what happened thereafter. One opinion is that the vinegar turned back to wine. The other opinion is that the price of vinegar became the same as the price of wine and Rav Huna was able to sell it for a nice profit.
From the above Gemara we see that even before Rav Huna actually paid the sharecroppers, the contents of his barrels either turned back to wine or the price of vinegar skyrocketed. The following question arises. We know that one who does the aveira of gezel does not get forgiven until he pays back what he stole. Why was Rav Huna’s problem with his barrels taken care of without actually paying his workers? In addition, we do not find that Rav Huna was mekabel upon himself not to do it in the future, nor do we find Rav Huna stating that he committed wrongdoing. Why is this?
Tosfos writes that the reason Rav Huna’s wine turned to vinegar was to teach him not to do this in the future. The chachamim knew that the sharecroppers would steal from him. Rashi even says that Rav Huna asked, “Am I a person that you would accuse of stealing?” Therefore, we can derive from this that Rav Huna did not really steal and therefore was not oveir on bein adam lechaveiro. It was just considered a p’gam in bein adam lamakom since a chillul Hashem would come out of this. It also could cause gezel to be a very light thing in the future. It is possible for one to get used to doing this even in a case when the sharecroppers do not steal from the owner.
This aveira does not require viduy or a kabala and al pi halacha one does not have to return the item. All that is required is that the person needs to take upon himself to rectify it. An example of this can be found in the Rambam, Hilchos Shmitta V’Yovel Perek Yud Gimmel, halacha yud. A ben Levi who stole from the spoils of a war receives malkus. The Mishna L’melech asks the following question based on the Chinuch mitzvah taf kuf heh. Why does the Rambam say that one gets malkus if we learn that one does not get malkus in the event that one can rectify the aveira by returning the object? The answer is that the Rambam holds that a ben Levi cannot return the object since that was not the aveira of actual stealing. The bnei Levi are on a higher level and are required to live a holier life. They therefore do not receive a chelek in bizas milchama. The act of taking is just a p’gam in Bein adam lamakom.
Let us be vigilant to avoid all forms of stealing and really respect other people’s property.