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Shabbat Parashat Vayakhel- Pekudei 5769

Ganav versus Gazlan

Hemdat HaDaf HaYomi

Baba Kama 77-83


This week in the Daf Hayomi (79b) the Gemara deals with the question of when a thief is considered a Ganav, and when he is considered a Gazlan (robber).  This question is very important, for only a thief who is, by halacha, deemed a Ganav, is fined to pay double what he stole.  A Gazlan, on the other hand, is obligated only to return what he stole and does not incur any fines beyond that.


In general, it appears from the Gemara that the main difference between a Ganav and a Gazlan is that a Ganav tries to conceal his actions, whereas a Gazlan commits his act in the open. 


This, the Gemara explains, is the reason the Torah was stricter with a Ganav:  "The students asked Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai, 'Why was the Torah stricter with a Ganav than with a Gazlan?'  He said to them, 'This one (i.e. the Gazlan, who stole openly,) equalized the honor of the slave with the honor of his master, whereas this one (i.e. the Ganav, who attempted to steal secretly,) did not equalize the honor of the slave with the honor of his master."  In other words, while the Gazlan is admittedly not worried of Hashem seeing his actions, he is, nevertheless, no more worried of people seeing his actions.  By contrast, the Ganav, though clearly not worried of Hashem seeing his actions (for Hashem, of course, sees all), is nevertheless worried of people seeing his actions.  This, it appears, adds to the act of the Ganav - beyond the crime of robbery which he shares with the Gazlan - an implicit insult to God.  For this, he receives the additional punishment.


Another difference between a Gazlan and a Ganav is that the Gazlan uses force.  This can be seen from an example the Gemara gives to define the act of a Gazlan.  The Gemara gives the example of Benayahu ben Yehoyada (Shemuel II, 23:21), who "stole the sword from the Egyptian and killed him with it" (and the verse uses the term Vayigzol to describe this act). Benayahu ben Yehoyada, without any weapon, was able to overpower the enemy and take his weapon.


The Rambam (G'neiva 1:3; and see also G'zeila 1:3 and G'neiva 7:11), too, when he defines the difference between a Ganav and a Gazlan, includes both of the two aforementioned points:  namely, that the Gazlan - as opposed to the Ganav - both commits his crime in the open, and also that he uses force. 


In light of the fact that the sources in the Gemara and the Rambam both highlight two distinctions between the Ganav and the Gazlan, the question is immanent:  Which of these two distinctions is the defining difference in Halacha between the Ganav and the Gazlan: the publicity of the act, or the use of force?


Rav Nachum Rabinovitch, in his commentary Yad Peshuta on the Rambam (G'neiva, 1:3), explains that the defining difference between a Ganav and a Gazlan lies in the tactic each uses to take what belongs to someone else.  Naturally, every person tries to protect what belongs to him and to prevent others from taking his property.  Hence, there remain two main plausible methods by which one may attempt to take that which belongs to someone else. One method is to do so without the owner seeing, and in this way the owner will not be able to protect his property. The second method is to use force; in this case, even though the owner is aware that his property is being taken, he is unable to prevent it because of the great force applied against him. In this, explains Rav Rabinovitch, lies the fundamental difference between a Ganav and a Gazlan. The first method is that of the Ganav, and therefore he has to do his act without being seen. The second is that of the Gazlan, and therefore he does not mind being seen.  Thus, the main difference between the Ganav and the Gazlan is that the Gazlan uses force, and as a result of this he does not mind doing it openly because he does not need to hide. However, the Ganav, since he does not use force, has to do his deed without being seen - so that he will not be stopped.


According to this understanding, we can understand another reason why the Torah was stricter with the Ganav.  The Rambam writes in the Moreh Nevuchim (III:41),

"A robber is not ordered to pay anything as a fine… The reason of this rule is to be found in the rare occurrence of robbery (the act of a Gazlan). Theft is committed more frequently than robbery, for theft can be committed everywhere; robbery is not possible in towns, except with difficulty; besides, the thief takes things exposed as well as things hidden away; robbery applies only to things exposed; against robbery we can guard and defend ourselves; we cannot do so against theft; again, the robber is known, can be sought, and forced to return that which he has robbed, whilst the thief is not known. On account of all these circumstances the law fines the thief and not the robber."


From these words of the Rambam in the Moreh, we learn that even on the basic level of society's need to prevent such crimes, there is a greater need for laws deterring thievery than there is for laws deterring from robbery.  Hence, in this practical way, as well, the Torah was logical in its choice to be stricter with the Ganav than the Gazlan.     


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This edition of Hemdat Yamim is dedicated to the memory of

R ' Meir ben Yechezkel Shraga  Brachfeld



Hemdat Yamim is endowed by
Les & Ethel Sutker of Chicago, Illinois in loving memory of
Max and Mary Sutker

and Louis and Lillian Klein, z”l.



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