Simple Mitzvot by Ben Katz


In Parshat Mishpatim, we learn about the punishment of a thief.  If somebody steals a sheep or a ox and sells it, he must pay back the value of the animal four times if a ox and five times if a sheep.

Rashi asks a famous question.  Why would the ox cost extra to pay back?  What is the difference between that and a ox?  He answers that when somebody steals a ox, he leads it away, but if he steals a sheep, he must carry it away, a very embarrassing position for him.  Because of this embarrassment factor, the sheep thief must pay less.  This just shows how important a person’s emotions are to Hashem that He would be willing to change actual payment on account of it.

However, there is one last question that lingers.  What is so special about a sheep and a cow?  Why are they the only two animals that require such a heavy fine?  R’ Shimon Ben Gamliel answers that not only are feelings important to Hashem but so is hard, honest work.  When somebody steals an ox or a sheep, he steals someone’s livelihood.  For this reason, Hashem punishes someone so harshly for such a theft.

Such a simple Mitzvah can teach an important lesson.  Two traits that Hashem values very much are hard honest work and basic respect.

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