Halacha for Tuesday 17 Elul 5779 September 17 2019

A Thief Who Wishes To Repent

Question: A few years ago, someone stole a certain sum of money from me. This individual has now approached me wishing to return this sum of money but he is crying to me about how it is possible that he will be able to return all the money he has stolen from so many people. What should I do?

Answer: One who steals something from another and then wishes to repent must first and foremost return the stolen object. If the thief does not return the stolen object, he can never fully repent, for the Torah states, “And he shall return the object which he has stolen or the wages which he has withheld.” Clearly, the sin of stealing is a negative Torah commandment which then turns into a positive commandment which means that if one transgresses the negative commandment of stealing, one must then fulfill the positive commandment of returning the stolen object.

Presumably, if the thief were to return the stolen object to its owner, the owner should gladly accept it and forgive the thief completely for his iniquity in order to allow the thief the opportunity to repent fully. We have already mentioned in the past that one cannot gain atonement for interpersonal misdeeds without first appeasing the wronged party. Surely, stealing is considered an interpersonal sin and thus one should be required to return the stolen object in order to mollify his friend.

However, the Baraita (Baba Kama 94b) states that when a thief wishes to repent and returns a stolen object, our Sages enacted not to accept the stolen object from him in order to open a pathway to repentance for him. This means that when the thief approaches the owner of the stolen object and tells him that he would like to return the stolen object, the owner should refuse to accept the item in order to ease the thief’s repentance process, for if the thief sees how hard Teshuva is to achieve by now having to return large sums of money to all the people he has stolen from, he might be tempted to give up the idea of repenting altogether and remain a sinner. Thus, our Sages decreed that one must not accept a stolen object from him in order to allow the thief to repent.

This is also the meaning of the following Gemara: “Rabbi Yochanan said that this enactment was established in the days of Rebbi (referring to Rabbi Yehuda Ha’Nassi). Once, a thief wanted to repent and his wife told him, ‘Fool! If you have come to repent, you will not be left with even your belt!’ The thief reconsidered and did not repent. At this point the Sages said, ‘Regarding thieves and those who have loaned money on interest who come to repent, one must not accept reimbursement from them. If one does, the spirit of the wise does not dwell in him.’” Rashi and the Nimukei Yosef explain the statement, “the spirit of the wise does not dwell in him” to mean that this person does not possess a spirit of wisdom or piety.

Thus, regarding our question, we see that one should not accept back the stolen object from the thief for this can lead to the thief’s disregard of his wish to repent altogether. However, in practice, there are certain situations which do not warrant refusal of accepting the stolen object, and we shall, G-d-willing, explain them in the following Halacha.

Ask the Rabbi


8 Halachot Most Popular

The Laws of the Holiday of Sukkot

As per the request of many of our members and as a public service, we shall now list a synopsis of some laws which are essential for the upcoming Sukkot holiday: The Sukkah must be made of three walls and Sechach (the roof). The walls may be made of any material which can withstand a normal wi......

Read Halacha

Chol Ha’Mo’ed

The days between the first and seventh days (outside of Israel between the second and eighth days) of the Pesach holiday and the days between the first day of Sukkot and the holiday of Shemini Atzeret (outside of Israel between the second day of Sukkot and Shemini Atzeret) are called “Chol Ha&......

Read Halacha

The Blessing of “Lee’shev Ba’Sukkah”

Question: Regarding the “Lee’shev Ba’Sukkah” blessing, what is more halachically preferable: To recite the blessing while standing before sitting down to begin one’s meal in the Sukkah or should one recite this blessing when he is already seated after having recited the......

Read Halacha

The Laws of Dwelling in the Sukkah

Since we will not have enough time to discuss the laws of Sukkot between Yom Kippur and Sukkot, we shall therefore begin discussing some of the pertinent laws of the Sukkot holiday now. The Mitzvah of Dwelling in the Sukkah The Torah (Vayikra 23) states: “You shall dwell in the huts for se......

Read Halacha


Motza’ei Yom Kippur

Adding From the Mundane Onto the Holiness One must add some of the mundane weekday onto the holiness of Yom Kippur upon its exit, i.e. one should not end this holy day immediately with nightfall; rather, one should wait another few minutes. Thus, it is prohibited to eat or perform work on Motza&rsq......

Read Halacha

Erev Yom Kippur and Maran zt”l’s Epic Words, “I Forgive Everyone”

The Mitzvah to Eat on Erev Yom Kippur The Torah (Vayikra 23) states: “And you shall oppress yourselves on the ninth of the month at night,” meaning that the obligation to fast on Yom Kippur begins from the night of the tenth of Tishrei. Our Sages (Berachot 8a) inquired about the languag......

Read Halacha

Simchat Torah

The Rambam (end of Chapter 8 of Hilchot Lulav) states: “Even though it is a Mitzvah to rejoice on all the festivals, there was an additional celebration in the Temple on the festival of Sukkot, as the Torah commands: ‘And you shall rejoice before Hashem, your G-d, for seven days.’ ......

Read Halacha

Ha’Melech Ha’Kadosh

Today is the Fast of Gedaliah. We have discussed the laws of public fast days in the context of the other public fast days of the year. The Gemara (Berachot 12b) states: “Rabba bar Hinena said in the name of Rav: Throughout the entire year, one recites the blessings of ‘Ha’el H......

Read Halacha