Over the chagim I was reviewing some mishnayot and came across a fascinating mishna which I though I would share some thoughts on:
SHEKALIM: CHAPTER 3: MISHNA 2
In three chests of three se’ahs each they withdraw from the chamber, on them were written alef, bet, gimmel. R. Yishmael says: It was written in Greek alpha, beta, gamma. The one who withdrew funds may not enter wearing a hemmed garment, nor with shoes, or with sandals, nor with tefillin, or an amulet; lest he become poor, and that they will say from the sin of the chamber he became poor, or lest he become rich, and they will say from the withdrawal funds of the chamber he became rich; because a person must please people in the same manner that he must please the Almighty, as it states (Num. 32:22), "You shall be guiltless before the Lord and before Israel," and it states (Prov. 3:4), "and find favor and good understanding in the eyes of God and man."
Now pshat is that you cannot enter into the chamber wearing the above mentioned items, because you could steal coins by hiding them in them. But a question remains, one of the items mentioned is tefillin. Surely a person who is walking around with tefillin all day long is not to be suspected of wrong doing, something so base a sin a sin as that of stealing from charity?
Contra to our possible first intuitions, the mishna is coming to teach us a message. By specifying tefillin, the mishna is teaching us that no matter how outwardly pious an individual is, we cannot be naive and assume that he is not capable of sin. The same safeguards that have to implemented for the man in the street have to applied to even the “frum” as well. True, there is a concept of giving people the benefit of the doubt, yet that cannot lead to a kind of blind faith whereby all behavior is unmonitored and it is assumed that all is good and well. A valuable lesson in light of unfortunate incidences in the Orthodox community of late.
As a side issue, see below for real life incidence where tefillin were used to smuggle out goods, and the torah true response of R’ Yaakov Kamenetsky on this matter.
There was a period in the 1970’s when a group of rogues were smuggling valuables in tefillin (phylacteries) and other religious articles that would usually evade inspection; thus the thieves assumed their scheme would be successful. Often they would send these religious articles with unsuspecting pious Jews and asked to deliver them to certain locations near their final destinations. When United States customs officials got wind of this scheme they asked a few observant agents to help crack the ring. In addition to preserving the sanctity of the religious items, the customs authority felt that Jewish religious agents would best be able to mete out knowing accomplices from unsuspecting participants who had been duped into thinking they were actually performing a mitzvah.
The Jewish custom agent in charge of the operation decided to confer with my grandfather, Rabbi Yaakov Kamenetzky on this matter. Though his advice on how to break the ring remains confidential, he told me how he explained how the severity of the crime was compounded by its use of religious items. "Smuggling diamonds in Teffilin," he explained, "is equivalent to raising a white flag, approaching the enemy lines as if to surrender and then lobbing a grenade. That soldier has not only perpetrated a fraud on his battalion and the enemy; he has betrayed a symbol of civilization. With one devious act, he has destroyed a trusted symbol for eternity — forever endangering the lives of countless soldiers for years to come. "These thieves, by taking a sacrosanct symbol and using it as a vehicle for a crime have destroyed the eternal sanctity and symbolism of a sacred object. Their evil actions may cause irreparable damage to countless honest religious people. Those rogues must be stopped, by any means possible," he exclaimed.
Source [http://www.jlaw.com/Articles/mesiralaw2.html footnote 6 ]