In the Wild West there were all kinds of villains; thieves, desperados, barrel boarders, gadabouts, nibblers, ruffians, chiselers, shotes, and mops to name a few. But even in the Wild West, there was one group of people that were considered the lowest of the low, below murderers and gadabouts, and that would be cattle rustlers. These ruffians would wait for other people to spend years raising cattle, and then a few weeks before those cattle were ready for market, the rustler would slip in under the cover of dark and steal those cattle. In the Wild West, cattle rustler were shot on sight if caught in the middle of the act, and today at least one state in the US are trying to bring that law back. Because we may not have many barrel boarders, mops, chiselers, or shotes, but we do have a rising number of cattle rustlers plaguing US ranches and farms, from Alabama to North Dakota, Pennsylvania to Oregon.
The US cattle industry is a tough one. Raising cattle is expensive and time consuming, and recent droughts as well as the rising costs of farmland and feedstock, have only made it more difficult. This has led to the rise of cattle theft all over the country. Cattle is one of the only items that you can steal today and sell tomorrow for true market value, because they don’t need to sell it though some shady fence or illicit pawn shop, they bring it right to market and sell it at the auction.
In some states, ranches are required to brand their cattle, but in other states that is not required, and while rancher often keep track of their herd using ear tags, those can easily be snipped off. Rustling cattle can be as easy as pulling up to field at night, cutting the wire fence open, using dogs or treats to get the cows into a trailer pulled by a pickup truck, and moving along. In fifteen minutes you can load up twenty cows or steers, and sell them the next morning for at least $20,000 in cash. With many parts of rural America reeling from drug addiction and poverty, cattle rustling has been rising all across the country, and it’s costing ranchers tens of millions of dollars a year.
The state of Missouri, is a high target for rustlers because it doesn’t require branding, and animals can quickly be moved across state lines to Kansas or Arkansas for sale, which slows down police response time. A few years back, seventeen members of the Missouri House of Representatives introduced a bill that would allow ranchers to shoot people caught stealing their cows, the same way a homeowner is legally allowed to shoot a thief in their house in many states under castle doctrines or stand your ground law. I don’t believe there is any state that currently allows the shooting of rustlers, stiffer punishments have been enacted in dozens of states lately for those most hated of all ruffians, the cattle rustlers.
(This weeks Parsha talks about cattle rustlers. For homework, feel free to email me the biblical punishment for cattle rustling!)
But in the 21st century, we have a whole new kind of rustler on the rise, bee rustlers. Yes, people are stealing bees by the millions. Bees are one of the most important creatures in the world for human thriving. It is their hard work that pollinates, or starts the life of, many of the fruits and vegetables that we eat, from squash and oranges to almonds, blueberries, pumpkins, and tens of other kinds of nuts, herbs, spices, oilseed crops, and even feedstock for the aforementioned cattle! It used to be that the local honeybees would suffice to pollinate all the crops in their area. But as industrial farming starting producing collosal farms and orchards, and various aggressive parasites began attacking US honeybees leading to widespread death and colony collapse disorder, there simply weren’t enough bees to do the job without a little help from beekeepers.
Today, beekeepers raise bees and then rent them out to farmers, who set them out around their farms where the bees get to work pollinating their crops. It’s a $500-million a year industry, with the price of renting a beehive rising from $10 in the 70’s to as much as $180 or even $200 today. These bees get shipped to California from as far as Florida or Louisiana, and over 30 billion bees will be rented out to make sure that the fruit orchards of California are properly pollinated. Some large farms in California spend north of $500,000 a year on renting bees! Each year, there are a total of 500,000 California hives put to work pollinating as well as 1.5 million hives trucked in from out of state.
Where there is money to be made, there are rustlers looking to make that money without working for it. Today, bee rustlers do the same exact thing cattle rustlers do. They sweep in under the cover of darkness, they load up dozens of hives onto a trailer, and rent them out to an orchard a few counties away. Hives are usually left near the roadway, and bees are mostly inactive at night, so it is extremely easy to drive up, throw a net over the hives, load them up on a trailer and be gone in a few minutes.
So we have a rise in cattle rustling, the invention of bee rustling, and a lot of barrel boarders, gadabouts, and chiselers looking to make their money off of other people’s hard work. Cattle can be branded and bee hives can have their owner’s logos printed on them but the rustlers will often rebrand the cattle incorporating the old brand into the new design, and they will simply paint over the bee hive to obscure the logo of the beekeeper they stole from.
But we live in the 21st century, and while we don’t shoot or hang rustlers anymore like they did back in the Wild West, we have come up with some pretty sophisticated tools for fighting rustlers. Cattle is being tracked today using DNA, and while that would have been prohibitively expense just a few decades ago, it is becoming more and more affordable each year. In the near future, when people bring cattle to market, inspectors will take DNA samples from the cows and insure that they don’t meet the profile of any cattle that was reported stolen.
Bee rustlers are also up against some pretty sophisticated technology. Pallets are being tracked with GPS trackers and microchips and beekeepers are installing motion sensitive cameras that alert owners when someone approaches their hives. But perhaps most interesting is a product made by a Florida based company called Smart Water CSI. They sell beekeepers a special traceable liquid, that is “painted” all over the beehives. It is invisible and only shows up under UV light, and will shine through even if you paint over it. It can stay on thieves hands and clothing for weeks, making it almost impossible for the thieves to cover over their tracks after their bee rustling escapades. Maybe one day soon we’ll be able to banish rustlers to the history books?
Likely not. Technology changes but human nature doesn’t. The desire to swoop in and steal things after others have spent years cultivating them will remain a reality. As the Torah tells us, (Genesis 8:21) “the inclination of man’s mind are evil from his youth…” Hashem gives us all the inclination to do wrong, to want that which is not ours, to take other’s work and use it for our benefit, to hurt others in the attempt to better our selfish needs or wants.
I don’t know if people will be stealing cattle and bees in 200 years because I don’t know if we’ll have cattle or bees. We may be making all of our meat in the lab, Israel just unveiled the world’s first full size 3D printed steak a few days ago, and we may be pollinating our fruit using robot bee swarms, and then the rustlers won’t be stealing cattle or bees but instead stealing the 3D meat printers or hacking into the computers that control the robotic bee swarms and sending them away from their true owners.
If we want to protect the things we value, we always need to be thoughtful and proactive, always staying abreast of what others are doing that could hurt us and developing plans to stay ahead of them. Ranchers who use the DNA database for their cattle and beekeepers who cover their hives in proprietary traceable liquids aren’t guaranteed that their cattle or bees won’t be stolen, the rustlers may find a way, but they have done everything they can to ensure that people won’t take away what’s most valuable to them, and they will definitely be more successful than those who have not taken measures to protect their property.
We too need to think about whether we are at all cognizant of the rustlers that want to take away that which is most valuable to us, and I’m not referring to anything monetary, I’m referring to traits that are often inside of us that when ignored will rob us clean. Are we aware of the rustlers that will cause us to lose the value we have in our marriages? That will hurt our relationship with our children? That will rob us of our relationship with G-d? It could be something as innocent looking as an addictive game on our phone, but if it is taking us away from our spouse, and making our children feel ignored, it is rustling from us our most important relationships! It could be that one friend of ours who is always so negative and cynical that they are slowly leaching away our positivity and turning us into toxic people. The rustlers have so many faces and methods.
In the Mesilas Yesharim, one of the greatest Jewish ethical texts of all time, Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzato tells us this, (Chapter 3), “He who wants to watch over himself must investigate two matters. The first: that he contemplate what is the true good for man to choose and what is the true evil for him to flee from. The second: on the actions which he does, to determine if they are in the category of the good or the evil.”
It sounds so simplistic, as the best advice usually does, but it’s truly so important and so frequently neglected. Have you sat down and contemplated what the rustlers in your life are? Have you ever written them down and thought about what strategies you will employ to lessen their risk?
We can come up with all sorts of technologies to beat the negative forces in our lives, but it requires awareness, ingenuity, investment of time and effort, and vigilance. But the good news is that when we do it, our flocks grow, our orchards blossom, and the we can fully enjoy the fruits of our labor!
“You shall enjoy the fruit of your labors; you shall be happy and you shall prosper.” (Psalms 128:2)
Parsha Dvar Torah
This week’s parsha, Mishpatim, is the first one in which the Torah lists all the Jewish festivals. “Three pilgrimage festivals shall you celebrate for Me during the year. You shall observe the Festival of Matzos…” (Exodus 23:14-15). It is also the first time we learn the Torah’s name for Passover – the Festival of Matzot. This is interesting as we don’t call Passover by the same name as G-d does. He calls it the Festival of Matzot and we call it Pesach. This discrepancy doesn’t apply to any of the other holidays, as we see that G-d does use the terms Shavuos and Succos, “Three times a year all your males should appear before Ha-shem your G-d in the place that He shall choose, on the Festival of Matzos, the Festival of Shavuos and the Festival of Succot” (Deut. 16:16). Why, then, do we call Passover by a name not given to it by the Torah?
The Derech Avos explains that the nomenclature of Pesach demonstrates the ideal relationship the Jewish people possess with G-d. Each party focuses on the virtues of the other. G-d calls the holiday the Festival of Matzos, in remembrance of the Jewish peoples’ sacrifice in following Him out to the desert with nothing but a few wafers in their food sacks. Not only did the Jewish people have faith that G-d would provide all their dietary needs in the desert, they were in such haste to join G-d on a journey through the desert that they didn’t even wait for their bread to leaven.
We, on the other hand, call the holiday, Pesach, Passover. This reminds us of the great miracle G-d performed for us by passing over the Jewish people’s houses while slaying the firstborn in every other house in Egypt. Thus the names used to describe Passover do more than describe a holiday, they describe a relationship we should all try to mimic in all of our relationships, one in which each party is wholly focused on the good the other has done for them.
This Parsha is where we begin to learn about the Jewish system of law. The first verse starts with a fundamental, namely that a Jew cannot take his legal issues to a non-Jewish court even if he knows they will give the same verdict as the Jewish court. We believe that when a Jewish judge sits in trial, he receives Divine assistance, which aids him in adjudicating properly. A non-Jew in a secular court doesn’t have that added benefit, therefore the Torah commands us to bring our issues before a Jewish court.
The first laws dealt with in this portion are those of the Jewish servant, someone who stole and didn’t have the money to return the stolen goods, who the court then sold so he could pay the victim of his thievery. The Sages tell us, “Anyone who buys a servant is acquiring a master for himself.” According to Jewish law, not only does the master need to take care of the servant’s wife and kids (who are not working for him), but if there is only one pillow in the house it must be given to the servant. The goal of the servitude is to rehabilitate the criminal by having him be around his master for a number of years and see how fair and upright he is. (Having once been beaten by a gang of thugs fresh out of prison, I believe that anything would probably be better at rehabilitating miscreants than our current prison system!)
There are so many laws in this week’s Parsha that I will only list some of them. After the laws pertaining to servants, the Torah deals with: murder – intentional and unintentional, kidnapping, striking or cursing of parents, and damages for bodily harm to others caused by a person, his property, or his animal. It teaches us how to deal with the stealing of livestock or other goods, the right to self defense, the different types of legal guardians, and the laws of a seducer, sorcerer, or people who engage in bestiality. G-d warns us to be extra sensitive to widows, orphans, and converts, warns us against charging interest for loans, and reminds us of the importance of upholding the integrity of the judicial system.
Next, we get back to some general mitzvos as G-d commands us here regarding the laws of Shmitah (leaving the land fallow on the 7th year), the laws of Shabbos, and the laws of the three major festivals, Pesach, Shavuot, and Succos. After that G-d promises us that He will watch over us, and get us settled into the Holy Land swiftly and safely, without disease or lost battles.
The last part of the Parsha goes back to the narrative of the Jews at Sinai. We are told that the Jews, upon being asked if they wanted the Torah, replied, “Na’aseh V’Nishma,” meaning we will do and we will listen. This was the Jewish people’s way of showing their complete faith in G-d. They were so certain that G-d would only give them mitzvot which were good for them that they accepted them even before hearing them all. Even today, we can still express the idea behind Na’aseh V’Nishma by doing the mitzvot we don’t yet understand as beneficial or just. When we do them anyway, we show that we do even what we don’t fully “hear” (understand). That’s all Folks!
Quote of the Week: Yesterday is a cancelled cheque. Tomorrow is a promissory note. Today is the only cash you have, so spend it wisely.- Kim Lyons
Random Fact of the Week: The Library of Congress has 327 miles of bookshelves.
Funny Line of the Week: Never use a long word when a diminutive one will do!
Have a Feisty Shabbos,
R’ Leiby Burnham