Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Lessons from a thief

One of the primary lessons of the Baal Shem Tov (founder of the Chassidic movement) was to take a spiritual lesson from everything you encounter in life.

Rabbi Meshulam Zusya of Anipoli was a spiritual master and student of the Baal Shem Tov's teachings. Reb Zushe- as he was known- defined seven lessons we can take from a thief.

(DISCLAIMER: The same spiritual force that motivates a criminal, impedes us from achieving our spiritual goals. In other words, it's easier for a thief to get this right than it would be for us).

1) He works quietly.

It's only the dumb thieves who boast of their exploits, or leave their ID at the crime scene- and get caught. A smart thief realizes that stealth and a low-profile are his key assets.

It's the same with spirituality. The foundation of all spiritual progress is humility. Moses is lauded in Torah for being the "most humble man" ever, not the most learned man ever (though he was that too).

2) He is ready to place himself in danger.

At any moment, an alarm might trigger and bring the police; or the thief could be spotted. He knows the risks, but goes ahead anyway.

Spiritual progress also involves taking risks. Nobody moves spiritually if they are too worried about what "might be".

Some of us are afraid to take the risk of showing our Jewishness in public. Others worry how their family will react to their newfound spirituality. The greatest challenge of all is taking the risk that your spiritual improvement may actually transform you into a different person.

Yet, that's the way spirituality works- take a chance, do something that you never imagined you could do. The Red Sea split because people took the chance of walking into it.

3) Every detail is important.

Did you hear the (true) story of a group of Romanian burglars? They cased a local bank for months and eventually made their move one night. They had overlooked one minor detail- the bank had moved to new premises a few days earlier.

People often wonder why Judaism pays so much attention to details. "Who cares if my mezuzah is missing a letter, surely it's the thought that counts?"

NASA has grounded billion dollar space flights in the past because of a loose screw. Your Judaism is a far more important project than any well-staged crime, or even a space mission. When the stakes are high, every detail counts.

4) He works hard.

Spirituality doesn't operate in a vacuum. Unless G-d appears to you and inspires you personally, you're not going to find your way to spiritual enlightenment overnight.

The important things in life come through effort. If you want the "treasure", you need to put in the effort.

5) The need for speed.

Thieves and getaway cars are quite synonymous. When he's in the process of stealing, a thief doesn't have time to waste. He needs to be quick, energetic and efficient.

You could have the greatest spiritual potential, but if you're sluggish or lazy, you probably won't move too far. Avraham, the first Jew, is quoted in the Torah as "waking up early in the morning" to fulfil G-d's missions.

We're his descendants- we're expected to operate with the same enthusiasm.

6) Confidence and optimism.

Who would attempt crime if he believed he would be caught?

You only succeed when you believe you can succeed. Too often, we tell ourselves that such-and-such a spiritual ideal is beyond us.

The arch-enemy of the Jewish people is "Amalek", the nation who had the gall to attack us as we left Egypt (when the rest of the world was cowering in fear after we defeated the Egyptian superpower).

In spiritual terms, Amalek represents doubt. Just as you begin to emerge spiritually, the doubts set in: "Can I really do this?".

That's the arch-enemy of a Jew. Hashem is one your side, you can definitely succeed.

7) If at first you don't succeed, try and try again.

You have to give criminals credit for perseverance. They will keep attempting a lucrative robbery time and again. They may be arrested and resume a life of crime when they get out.

All too often, we try, fail- and give up. "A Tzadik falls seven times before rising," says the Torah.

The question is not whether or not you fail, but how you react when you fail.


Jews are charged with the task of transforming the world into a holy place. When we improve our own spiritual progress based on a thief's behaviour, we transform the world of thieves into something a little holier. Hopefully, we do it enough to actually eradicate crime altogether.


Dazza said...

I'm totally blown away Rabbi.
Amazing Amazing Amazing!!

Rabbi S said...

Thank you, it's not my own idea :)

Dazza said...

hehe, Everything in Judaism was someone elses's idea...just the right people had to put it forward to those who never knew ;)