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3 Nisan 5766

Return in Order to Return

Parashat Vayikra

From "Chemdat Yamim" Parsha Sheet

Dedicated to the memory of
Asher Ben Haim

Last week we discussed the juxtaposition of Shabbat and the Mishkan. This week, this writer is perplexed not about why a section appears here, but about why it appears only here. The Torah commands: "Should a soul sin and commit treachery against Hashem and lie to his friend about ... or a theft ... and denied it and swore falsely. And it will be should he sin and be guilty, he should return the stolen object that he stole ...and he should return its principal and add on its fifth ... and he should bring a [korban] asham" (Vayikra 5: 23-25). It makes much sense to discuss the atonement process of one who steals and also swears falsely about it. What is surprising is that this is the only direct mention of the need to return something which one stole. Why is not found in another place, such as Parashat Mishpatim or Kedoshim, where the monetary elements of theft are discussed? As it is now, one would be tempted to infer from the p’sukim that if one did not swear falsely about the theft, he would not have to return the object or at least not pay if it was subsequently lost or damaged.

As anyone who has studied the laws of theft knows, all agree that one is required to do the natural thing, to return or pay for the object he stole (see Bava Kamma 66a). This is, of course, the case even if he does not swear falsely in this regard. When he does swear about it, other requirements and stringencies enter the picture. However, we can suggest that the Torah placed discussion of the return of the object in the context of the korbanot for the following reason.

First, we should mention the concept of gezel hager, one who steals from someone who has no relatives to inherit his property, and swears falsely about it. If the owner dies, the Torah requires the thief to "pay back" a kohen in lieu of the deceased in order to complete his atonement. Only when addressing the monetary affront can he take care of the matter of the false oath.

Someone might be tempted to mistakenly view the affront of stealing as one in the realm of a mitzva between man and his fellow man, with little "religious" repercussions. The mistake is two-fold. Firstly, Hashem is the one who commanded to treat our fellow man fairly. Secondly, when one begins to act immorally, it is not usually possible to limit it to a certain area alone. One who steals may need to lie. One who lies may need to invoke Hashem’s Name and swear that he neither stole nor lied. Perhaps most significantly, one who lowers his moral standards compromises his inner integrity, an area some refer to as a mitzva between man and himself. Once this has been compromised, it is almost inevitable that the sins in the realm of between man and his Maker will follow.

In the field of health, it has become popular to treat a person holistically. The Torah is teaching us that this approach should be applied to the health of the soul, as well.

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