Exodus 21:1 – 24:18
“The night burglar may be killed if caught in the act, but the housebreaker by day may not be killed, and if he is killed, the homeowner is guilty of murder.” (Ex. 22:1-2)
From the perspective of the homeowner, a break-in at night is far more frightening and dangerous than a theft by day. By day perhaps other people might see the robbery and come to assist, but by night we presume that the burglar knows there will be no witnesses, and therefore intends to harm the homeowner if caught. Rashi interprets this to teach: “if someone is coming to kill you, kill him first.”
Others suggest there is a larger question here. The day burglar breaks in when the house is probably empty – the night burglar when it is likely someone is at home. The day burglar fears other human beings, the night burglar does not – and it is this which makes him so dangerous. Alternatively, the night burglar is worse not because he has no fear of humans, but because he thinks that he will go unseen in the dark, forgetting that God sees all.
Rabbi Stephen Wylen asks: “Which is the greater guarantor of lawfulness: for people to fear God, or for people to fear the judgement of women and men?”
The answer is ours to give.
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Hi there! I am the senior rabbi at Temple Beth Ami in Rockville, Maryland, where I have served since 2016.
(c) copyright 2018 by Rabbi Gary Pokras