It was late afternoon. The slowly sinking sun shone down halfheartedly, as clusters of boys hurried through the streets, searching for a precious commodity. With only days until Lag B’Omer, it was imperative that each group find sufficient wood to build an impressive bonfire.
“Over here!” Nissim called out in a yell, which ended in a whisper. He didn’t want to draw the attention of other groups, to the massive tree branch lying on the ground.
Nissim and his buddies, Yisrael and Reuven, got to work immediately. They dragged the enormous branch across the street, and over to their stash of wood. Suddenly, they found themselves surrounded by a group of older boys.
“I see you have some extra wood!” one of the boys sneered. With that, the big kids began pulling Nissim’s newly acquired branch away from his pile. Nissim and his friends watched helplessly, as their hard earned wood was being taken away. Suddenly, Nissim had a thought.
He turned to the big kids and said “I don’t know why you’re bothering with our little pile. There’s a much bigger pile of wood on the other side of that fence.”
The older kids followed Nissim’s gaze. They sized up the situation, and ran off to the other pile.
“I can’t believe you just did that!” Yisrael exclaimed. “You just sent a group of thieves to attack someone else’s wood pile. And we even know who it belongs to. That pile belongs to your neighbor Nachum and his friends!”
“That’s exactly the point!” Nissim responded, as he pulled his cellphone out of his pocket. “Nachum is bigger than us. He’ll know how to handle those kids! I’ll just give him a call and let him know what’s going on.”
Nissim, Yisrael and Reuven watched carefully, eager to see what would happen next. The tough kids were about to take some pieces of wood, when they were suddenly attacked by Nachum, and a few other boys. Nachum and his friends gave the would-be thieves a few good punches, before the offenders got up and ran away, with Nachum calling after them that they dare not come back to this area.
Did Nissim act correctly, when he told the kids to steal wood from the other boys’ pile? It seems like he did a good thing, because the kids were caught, and, in all likelihood, won’t try to steal wood again.
Firstly, it is important to warn children, as well as adults who witness and ignore theft of wood, that at Har Sinai, we all heard the voice of Hashem telling us not to steal!! There is no allowance whatsoever to take wood which someone else collected, for a Lag B’Omer bonfire. Similarly, it is absolutely forbidden to use a store’s shopping carts to carry wood, without obtaining explicit permission beforehand.
The answer to this specific question is as follows:
Nissim acted inappropriately, and it was forbidden for him to direct the boys to the other wood pile, for two reasons:
1. Sending the boys to the other wood pile was a violation of “before a blind man do not place a stumbling block” (which forbids us to give bad advice, or lead another to sin), because Nissim was actually encouraging the boys to steal.
2. Nissim caused the thieves to fall into the hands of boys who were stronger than them, and were likely to hurt the thieves. This is considered “moser” (giving someone over to others who will administer unjust punishment), a crime for which the punishment is particularly severe. Additionally, if there was strong reason to believe that the thieves would be injured by Nachum and his friends, it would be considered that Nissim himself hurt the thieves, and Nissim would be required to bear the consequences.
Nachum and his friends also acted wrongly. They should not have injured the offenders. Assuming that the wood rightfully belonged to Nachum and his friends, the most that they would be able to do would be to defend their property, even using force. However, injuring the offenders, more so than necessary to prevent theft, was forbidden, and Nachum and his friends are obligated to compensate the injured parties.