Returning Stolen Objects


By Rabbi Berach Steinfeld

The Torah teaches us in Vayikra, Perek Heh, posuk chof gimmel that one is required to return a stolen object. A person who has stolen something that is not his, or a person who lends money with interest is invalidated as a witness. Is someone considered a kosher witness if he is coerced to return a stolen object after going to Bais Din whose psak is against him? The Rambam in Hilchos Eidus, Perek Yud, halacha daled writes that even after returning the money that was stolen, the person is still posul as a witness. The Tur in Choshen Mishpat, siman lamed daled asks why should a person who returned the stolen object not be kosher for “eidus?” The Tur answers that the reason for this is because the person did not return the item on his own accord, but was forced to do so by Bais Din. He therefore is posul for “eidus.” The Kesef Mishna says that even if the person returns the object willingly, without being coerced by Bais Din, he would still be posul for “eidus.” We learn this from the fact that people who lend with interest are not kosher for eidus even after returning the money collected, unless complete teshuva is done. This is based on a gemara in Sanhedrin, daf chof vov, amud bais.

We can ask the following question on the Tur’s position mentioned above. Why is someone who lent with interest still required to do teshuva after he returned the money; whereas when it comes to stealing, it is sufficient to just return the object on his own accord? The Sma in seif koton yud zayin answers that the halacha regarding lending with interest is only when the person is so used to stealing it is therefore insufficient to return the money. In a scenario where one stole something once, the person is not used to the act of stealing so it would be sufficient to return the object on his own accord to make him kosher to say eidus. The Rema in seif chof tes also differentiates between one who is used to stealing and one who is not. It would not be sufficient just to return the item if one is a repeat swindler, whereas it would be sufficient to return the object and be kosher for eidus if someone stole only once. In the event that a person was brought to Bais Din and was forced to return the stolen item, it would not be sufficient to become kosher for eidus. He would have to return the item of his own volition. The Bach argues with this and says that if a person was not muchzak to be a gazlan, it was only a one time occurrence, then he would be kosher for eidus even if he only returned the item if Bais Din forced him to do so. The Ketzos in seif koton bais explains that since the person returned the item, even if it is only as a result of coercion, it serves as his act of teshuva and he is mekayem the mitzvah of returning a stolen object. This is comparable to a person who receives 39 lashes and is then considered “achicha” (your brother). He is then considered a tzaddik based on the gemara in Makkos, daf chof gimmel, amud alef.

We see the importance of returning a stolen item based on the Tzitz Eliezer in chelek heh, Ramat Rachel, siman chof zayin who mentions a discussion in the sefer Har Avel that a person should leave a tzavaah before he passes away stating that some of his money should be given for the needs of the public. The Gemara in Bava Basra, daf kuf samech heh says that the majority of people stumble when it comes to the sin of stealing. The Gemara in Bava Kama, daf tzadik daled and the Choshen Mishpat, siman shin samech vav discuss that if one stole, but does not know from whom he stole, he should donate to “tzorchei tzibbur” (public need) and that will serve as his teshuva. Leaving such a tzavaah will help the person at the Yom HaDin.

May we value other people’s money and time so we don’t commit the act of stealing.

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