Ask the Rabbi

  • Family and Society
  • Damage and Theft

Teshuva for stealing


Rabbi David Sperling

Tammuz 4, 5774
Hi, How does one do teshuva for both intentional and unintentional theft? My case is that in the past i have worked for many jobs in which i have done stuff like checked my email or done non-work related things during my work time. All jobs have been salary based, not time based. I always made sure however, that all work that was expected of me was completed. However, it still bothers me that perhaps I could have done more and have been considered to steal. Some of these workplaces are no longer even open or I have no idea how to get in touch with them. And for those that I could get in touch with i wouldn’t even know how to settle something like this because I did not keep a record of how much time I wasted during work hours. Additionally, in many of these places I did lots of unpaid overtime. Im sure also, that in the past i have taken things that were not mine. Perhaps used a pen or something similar. Although I never took anything expensive, but still I’m sure that I have stolen unintentionally here and there throughout my life. So how can I do teshuva for all this? Thanks
Shalom, Thank you for your question. It is a great part of one's service of Hashem and spiritual growth to review one's past from time to time, and try and repent for any failings one has. It seems that you have been looking at your deeds and found them deficient in this area – which is a wonderful way to move ahead to a better and fuller life. May you be blessed with every success. The way to repent for acts of theft is firstly to return the stolen goods. However in your case it is doubtful that this is possible (or, in many of the situations you outlined, it may not even be a case of true theft). If so you are left with the other two parts of repentance – confessing the sin to Hashem in prayer, and being determined to change your ways and not return to the sin in the future. The confession can be in the Amidah during the blessing of "selach lanu", or by itself – just by saying to Hashem that you request forgiveness for your sins of theft. You should do this privately without others knowing. During the Yom Kippur service we make a general confession for our sins, including theft, but it would be advisable to one time make a particular confession in your own words. Being determined to change your ways can be helped by perhaps devoting some time each day (or week) to learning about the laws of proper conduct at work. There are many good books (also in English) about business ethics, theft, morals, and general works about the service of Hashem. If you spend some time learning these texts, it will strengthen your resolve to act better in the future. Blessings.
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