In this week’s Torah portion the Torah discusses the holy clothes that the Kohanim (Priests of the Jewish Temple) would wear. One of the materials that were in these clothes was a “sky blue” wool called Techeiles. Although we don’t have these holy clothes anymore, we have a mitzva that similarly helps us to sanctify our clothes. This is the mitzva of Tzitzis. Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch explains (Bamidbar 15:41) that just as a Bris Mila help to sanctity our body, tzitzis helps to sanctify our clothes. According to Rabbi Hirsch this means that Tzitzis help us to connect to the moral lesson behind our clothing. That lesson is that clothes remind us that the real “us” is not our body. The real “us” is our neshama. Our body is just our “vehicle” and we express that by covering our body. Just as the clothing of the Kohanim had Techeiles, a blue wool that was a reminder of the spiritual dimension, so do the Tzitzis.
How would you answer the following fascinating moral dilemma that was asked to Rabbi Ephraim Oshry during the Holocaust?
A group of teenagers from the Kovnah Ghetto approached R’ Oshry with the following question. They yearned to be able to fulfill the mitzva of tzitzis. The mitzva would give them hope and a yearning to live. They also believed that the merit of wearing tzitzis would grant them protection from the dangers that they faced daily in the ghetto. And finally, they yearned to have tzitzis, because in case they do not survive in the ghetto, they would like to be buried in a talis in accordance with the traditional custom.
There was no wool available in the ghetto. But the boys discovered that the German soldiers had a stash of wool near where they performed their forced labor. They thought that they might be able to steal some wool from the Germans to be able to make tzitzis. It was a very risky endeavor and if they would be caught they would get punished severely.
The question they had was, that it is well known that it is forbidden to steal in order to perform a mitzva (see Succa 31). The ends do not justify the means and a mitzva that is performed through theft is disqualified. They wanted to know if the normal principle that prohibits stealing to do a mitzva would be applicable in this case. Perhaps because the mitzva would give them hope, perhaps because they would be able to use it to be buried in would make this different.
Furthermore, because they would be stealing from the Germans perhaps it would not even be theft. The German’s didn’t bring wool with them from Germany. This was surely wool that the German stole from someone in Lithuania.
Additionally, the Jews were at war with the Germans. If they could kill the German’s certainly they could steal from them.
Should they risk their life to perform this mitzvah, if it may not be a mitzva at all if it was done through theft? Should they avoid theft even in this case? Should theft be avoided even from the Germans?
On one hand it may be permitted because it was not theft because it really wasn’t the Germans wool, or because they were at war with the Germans. Or perhaps theft would be permitted here because the mitzva would give them hope and protect them.
On the other hand, perhaps it would be prohibited because it was theft. Theft is prohibited no matter who it is from. Furthermore, if it was theft there would be no value to their mitzvah, and it in that case it would not be worth the risk.
How would you answer this question?
Mr Ruben should give the larger amount of $3000 to remove all doubt. See Chashuki Chemed Baba Basra page 594