The flood lasted forty days on the earth. (Bereshith 7:17)
It was not by chance that the Flood lasted exactly forty days. The world was destroyed by the Flood because of gezel (theft), and the gematria (numerical value) of the word gezel is 40. God chose a punishment that would show a clear association between the Flood and the theft that was so rampant in the world.(1)
There was another important message in how that generation was punished. Countless drops of rain fall simultaneously, yet each one has its own path, and does not enter the path of any other drop. In the same way, people must realize that everyone’s possessions were given to him by God, and no one has a right to touch any property that is not his.(2)
A silver cup was once stolen from a guest of Mar Zutra. Shortly following the theft, Mar Zutra happened to notice someone washing his hands in preparation for prayer and wiping his hands on a towel that did not belong to him. Recognizing that this act showed a lack of regard for the property of others, Mar Zutra interrogated him concerning the whereabouts of his guest’s cup. The suspect admitted that he was guilty of having stolen the cup. Although that individual had been in the midst of doing a mitzvah, Mar Zutra recognized that his use of another’s belongings without permission was a sign that he had been the perpetrator of the crime.(3)
As soon as someone starts to touch other people’s money, he has planted the seed of full-fledged thievery. If one has even the slightest doubt as to whether taking a certain item would be considered therefore not, Rav Yisrael Salanter has provided us with the general rule: “Taking anything that is not yours is considered theft.”(4)
1. Kli Yakar on Bereshith 7:17.
2. Kli Yakar on Bereshith 6:17.
3. Bava Metzia 24a, according to Lev Eliyahu, Shemoth p. 211.
4. Cited in Pithchei HaChoshen 4:1:1.
Text Copyright © 2006 by Rabbi Daniel Travis and Torah.org