Home Subscribe Services Support Us
Print Version

Email this article to a friend

Forbidden Pastures I

By Rabbi Daniel Travis

Avraham said to Lot, “Let us not have friction between me and you, and between my herdsmen and yours. We are brothers, after all.” (Bereshith 13:8)

The friction between Avraham and Lot was caused initially by Lot’s herdsmen, who allowed their animals to graze in fields that did not belong to them. This type of carelessness was not exclusively the behavior of Lot’s herdsmen. Indeed, it is impossible for any shepherd to prevent his animals from grazing in pastures that belong to others unless he takes the precautions that Avraham took, muzzling every one of his animals.(1) For this reason, herdsmen are generally labeled as thieves, and our Sages call them “rasha” – “wicked.”(2) This label disqualifies them from serving as a witness, as the Torah says, “Do not join forces with a wicked person to be a corrupt witness.”(3)

In most cases, a thief can rectify his actions by returning the objects he stole, but the shepherd is in a far more precarious situation. By allowing his animals to graze freely he has stolen from so many people that he is in the category of gozel eth harabim (one who steals from the public). Since there is no conceivable way for him to make an accounting of those from whom he stole, it is virtually impossible for him to rectify his misdeed.

Our Sages have prescribed that under such circumstances the proper form of repentance is for the shepherd/thief to donate the amount of money he stole to be used for communal needs. When he does so, it is likely that the victims or their heirs will benefit from the services he has financed, so he can be considered in some way to have returned what he stole.(4) Someone who wishes to rectify an act of stealing from the public may provide for people’s physical needs, such as food and water,(5) or for their spiritual needs, such as Torah literature.(6) However, since the thief has not actually returned the money he owes and it is questionable whether the victims will ever be compensated, the funds he donates for the sake of public welfare cannot be considered complete repentance for his many acts of theft.(7)

1. See the article entitled “Human Nature,” (page 140) on Bereshith 24:10.

2. Bava Metzia 5b. See also Avodah Zara 26a and Choshen Mishpat 525:5 for a glimpse of the severe ramifications of a shepherds’ habitual theft.

3. Shemoth 23:1.

4. Bava Kama 94b; Shulchan Aruch Choshen Mishpat 366:2.

5. Beitza 29a.

6. Ahavas Chesed 50:1, citing the Sh’lah.

7. Tosefta, Bava Kama 10:8; Rashbam, Bava Bathra 88b. See also Shulchan Aruch and Semah 409:1, who state that because of the problems mentioned here, it is forbidden to raise sheep in inhabited areas within the Land of Israel. See also Mishpatei HaTorah 1:75, who rules that on a kibbutz, where the property is communally owned, and there is an express agreement among the members that the livestock can graze anywhere on the kibbutz, this prohibition does not apply.

Text Copyright © 2006 by Rabbi Daniel Travis and



View Complete List

A Flood of Something...
Rabbi Label Lam - 5763

What Goes Around Comes Around
Rabbi Pinchas Winston - 5760

Not Better or Worse, Just Different
Rabbi Yaakov Menken - 5756

Frumster - Orthodox Jewish Dating

Window to the World
Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetzky - 5762

Love versus Fear
Shlomo Katz - 5763

Parshas Noach
Shlomo Katz - 5772


The Shame Of Cham
Rabbi Aron Tendler - 5762

A Wasted Tragedy
Rabbi Berel Wein - 5762

Too Perfect
Rabbi Eliyahu Hoffmann - 5759

> Understanding the Faith of Noach
Rabbi Yosef Kalatsky - 5763

From Life
Rabbi Label Lam - 5773

Intellectual Beliefs
Shlomo Katz - 5758

Looking for a Chavrusah?

Building Towers - For What?
- 5774

Three Philosophies at Bavel
Rabbi Yissocher Frand - 5761

The Day Falsehood Married Destruction
Shlomo Katz - 5761

Noach's Lessons for Our Day
Rabbi Yaakov Menken - 5762

Project Genesis Home

Torah Portion

Jewish Law



Learn the Basics




Ask The Rabbi

Knowledge Base


About Us

Contact Us

Free Book on Geulah! Home Copyright Information