Would anyone describe Kabalas HaTorah as “groovy”?
Long before the 1960s, the Torah used the phrase “seeing sounds” (ro’im es ha’kolos) to describe the Jewish people’s experience at Har Sinai (Sh’mos 20:16). Far out!
The first Gerrer Rebbe, known as the Chidushei HaRim (d. 1866), explained that such a miraculous perception of the Ten Commandments was necessary, as it allowed the Jewish people to properly see what Hashem was saying. Many of the Commandments contain the Hebrew word “Lo,” which is a homophone (i.e., two words that sound the same, but have different meanings depending on their spelling). When Lo is spelled lamed-alef it means “no”; when it is spelled lamed-vav it means “for him” or “to him.”
When Hashem spoke the words “Lo Signov” and addressed the laws of stealing, it was crucial that the Jewish people be able to visualize which “Lo” they were hearing. What Hashem intended, of course, was lamed-alef: No stealing. However, a rationalizing person might have heard the word as lamed-vav: For Him (Hashem), you may steal. To dispel any notion that one may dishonestly gain or save money as long as it is being used for religious purposes (“for Him”), B’nei Yisrael needed to see the sound of this Commandment with their very own eyes. It was not enough to hear the word; they needed to read the lamed-alef so there would be no mistake: Thou shalt not steal – not even for a worthy cause.
Sometimes, it can be enticing to cut corners on financial matters. Given the exorbitant cost of Jewish life (e.g., large families ka”h, yeshivah tuition, Pesach, etc.), it may seem easy to excuse taking advantage of deep-pocket, faceless entities – online retailers, insurance companies, government programs – which will likely never notice the loss. One may even justify that such an act constitutes a mitzvah, for there is “no victim” and it allows a person to fund a Torah lifestyle. To counter this great temptation, we can take a closer look at the Ten Commandments this Shabbos and “spell-check” Lo Signov – it is definitely spelled lamed-alef.
Rav Chaim of Volozhin (d. 1821) once quipped that the Aseres HaDibros were inscribed on both sides of the Luchos (Sh’mos 32:15), so that “whichever way you look at it,” the Command reads: Thou shalt not steal!