The personal secretary of the Kotzker Rebbe once related that when it was brought to the Rebbe’s attention that his spoons were being stolen, he cried out, “Stolen? Is it not written in the Torah, ‘You shall not steal’?!”
The secretary then added that when the Rebbe said this, it made a tremendous impression on him – he truly could not understand how it was possible that someone would steal; in the Rebbe’s mind, such a thing was impossible.
But there is another perspective on “You shall not steal” and “You shall not deal deceitfully or falsely with one another” (Lev. 19:11) – the earthly view.
These matters are relevant; they exist in the world.
While the heavenly view cannot fathom how people could act in such a way, the earthly view is grounded in reality, acknowledging the way of the world.
The earthly view can descend lower and lower in each generation.
Sometimes one reads the descriptions of the most derelict characters from several generations ago, and one asks himself:
These are the generation’s most despicable people?
Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi writes that even the most sinful person in our communities nevertheless prays three times a day wears tzitzit, and puts on tefillin.
Nowadays, there are places where such a person would be considered the gadol hador, or if not that, then at least an important person.
This is the essence of the earthly view: If a person truly does not steal, he is holy; and if by chance he does not swear falsely as well, then he is truly a righteous and holy jew.
Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz