It goes without saying that life would be simpler if all things were black and white. Alas, however, we live in a world filled with many shades of grey.

An excellent example of this is the idea of avak gezel, the “dust of robbery.” Avak gezel refers to situations in which one had no intention of stealing and, in truth, did not actually steal something, but yet caused a loss to someone else.

In his magnificent compilation of Jewish law known as the Mishneh Torah, Rabbi Moses ben Maimon (Rambam–Spain/Egypt 12th century) notes that a person who eats a meal with a host who cannot afford to serve that meal has committed avak gezel. The Rambam clearly points out that this is not technically “legal robbery” but is forbidden because there is some element of robbery within this action. (Hilchot Teshuva 4:4)

The laws of avak gezel can be particularly challenging to follow without embarrassing other people. The concept, however, is worth keeping in mind. Many
people are in tough financial situations, and many of those people don’t want others
to know about their financial reversals.

Avoiding avak gezel may be only a matter of simple consideration. If you have a friend with a history of being a shopaholic who is currently out of work, don’t invite her to go to the mall with you. If you have a friend with whom you enjoy sharing a meal, choose a restaurant that fits into everybody’s budget, so that no one is embarrassed into paying for something he/she cannot really afford.

Not only will such considerate behavior allow one to avoid avak gezel, it will also be a way of fulfilling the positive Torah commandment of “V’ah’havta l’ray’ah’cha ka’mocha,” love your fellow as yourself.