The relationship between a) the characteristic of being “pashut,” b) monetary integrity, and c) closeness to G-d is alluded to in the following Midrash (Tanchuma, Parshat Tzav 1).
“This is the set of laws of the Olah [offering], it is the Olah…” (Vayikra 6:2). What is written earlier? “And if he will sin and be [found] guilty, he will return the stolen object which he took,” (ibid. 5:23) followed by the set of laws of Olah. [It is teaching that] if you wish to bring a sacrifice [to G-d] don’t steal any [of it] from another person. Why? “For I am G-d, loving justice and hating robbery in an Olah sacrifice” (Isaiah 61:8). When can you bring an Olah and I will accept it? When your hands are pure from theft. King David said “Who will go up on the mountain of G-d, and who will stand (endure) in His holy place? One with unsullied palms and a pure heart” (Psalms 24:3- 4). You learn this lesson from the origin of sacrifices. It is written “Man, when he brings a sacrifice…” ((Vayikra 1:2, using the word “adam” for man; also see Rashi). G-d says: When you bring sacrifices for me, bring them as Adam (the first man) did. He didn’t steal from others, for he was alone in the world (and everything belonged to him).
One needs to ask why distancing oneself from stealing is so much more important in bringing sacrifices than in any other Mitzvah?! The juxtaposition of the laws of the Olah offering to the section on stealing indicates that it is uniquely inappropriate to bring a sacrifice to G-d containing something stolen. The purpose and effect of bringing a sacrifice is to come closer to G-d, and one who steals is not worthy of being close to G-d. G-d embodies the maximum in the characteristic of being “pashut.” (Nothing can be more fully independent and pure than the Almighty Himself.) One who steals has received from another something which is not due him, and his existence is now a compound existence, composed also of things that are really not part of his essence. (Just as Rebbi Shimon’s characteristic of being “pashut” brought him CLOSER to G-d, the characteristic of being “murkav,” having an existence which has become compounded with an unnecessary dependence on things outside of your essence, creates a distance from G-d. It is the fundamental nature of the material to exist in a state of being “murkav.” The more rooted something is in the material, the more distant it is from the Divine.)
It is notably in the Olah offering that it is written “For I am G-d..hating robbery in the Olah.” For the Olah is completely burned, given totally over to G-d, having the potential to create the greatest closeness. Something which lacks the characteristic of being “pashut,” as does the person who stole, as well as the animal which itself was stolen, is not appropriate to reach this high degree of closeness to G-d, the epitome of being “pashut.” While stealing — which distances one from G-d — stands in contradiction to bringing a sacrifice — which brings one closer to G-d — bringing an Olah from a stolen animal is the strongest form of this contradiction. Therefore, it is the laws of Olah which are juxtaposed with a section on stealing.
And this is summarized in the words of Kind David. “Who will go up on the mountain of G-d” to draw closer and higher to the level of the transcendent spiritual world? “One with unsullied palms” who has the characteristic of being “pashut” and not “murkav,” giving him an existence which stands independent of material limitations and financial improprieties. This combines with the other element, a “pure heart,” which refers to a “sechel” which is pure. These two elements — an existence which is “pashut” in relation to a material existence, and a “sechel” (an intellectual/spiritual dimension) which is pure — create as close a relationship with the Divine as can be attained.
The verse itself alludes to one who “sees the outcome of his actions,” which is the trait of one who has a “pure heart.” It is the “pure heart” which serves as the source for the pure and refined sechel which enables one to see the outcome of his actions, as we have explained. But first, one must distance oneself from the negative traits associated with dependence on materialism. So the quality of “unsullied palms” precedes that of having a “pure heart” in describing who is worthy of coming closer to G-d.
One who borrows and does not pay back, being rooted in material dependency, is the diametric opposite of one who is “pashut” and sees the outcome of his actions (through his refined sechel).
But why wasn’t one who robs from others used as an example of the opposite of being “pashut”? Robbery is a sin in its own right, and is a flagrant violation of the law. One who borrows and doesn’t pay back indicates a more subtle defect in his character, deviating from the superior characteristic of being “pashut” through his being a unilateral recipient of possessions of others.
“One who borrows from another person is like one who borrows from the Almighty” because “To G-d is the world and all that is in it” (Tehillim 24:1). One who borrows from another person is considered to have borrowed from G-d since it is G-d who is the actual owner of what was borrowed. It is similar to a case where Reuven loaned money to Shimon, with instructions that the debt should be repaid to Levi. (G-d is in the role of Reuven, the lender, Shimon is the debtor, with the creditor, in the real-world example, being in the role of Levi.)
The proof-text “An evil person borrows and does not pay back” is brought to demonstrate that one who does not pay back is an evil person (“rasha”), and an evil person is distant from G-d. This contrasts with one who sees the outcome of his actions, who is CLOSE to G-d, due to his refined sechel.
Not paying a debt is a wicked action, which is what makes this person deserving of the designation “rasha,” an evil person. There is another reason why such a person should be designated a “rasha.” A person is supposed to behave in an orderly fashion, conducting all his affairs in a measured and balanced way. (This is the underlying order of nature that reflects the way G-d created the world and how He wants it to run. In many places the Maharal expounds on the importance of balance and orderliness in our lives, and how the “kedusha,” the holiness, resides in the center, at the point where everything is in balance.) A person who borrows and does not pay back violates the natural order of how the world should run. This imbalance is destructive and makes the person deserving of being considered an evil person (“rasha”).
We have gone to great length to explain these Mishnayoth in a way that reflects their true meaning, if you examine them deeply and reflect upon what is being taught. What the Rabbis have taught was not said simply as their personal opinion or as an estimation of how things are. Rather, they are teaching basic wisdom and fundamental truths of how the world operates. We aren’t able to go into more detail than we have, due to the deep nature of these truths. But a wise person will go beyond what we have explained to better understand the five virtues and the dimensions of holiness that they embody.
(This conclusion repeats a theme we have seen numerous times already, and which is prevalent in the writings of the Maharal. The words of the Rabbis are taught in a way that — if we dig deeply — reveals underlying truths of the way the world works.)