Bar-Ilan University's Parashat Hashavua Study Center

Parashat Vayiqra

Lectures on the weekly Torah reading by the faculty of Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan, Israel. A project of the Faculty of Jewish Studies, Paul and Helene Shulman Basic Jewish Studies Center, and the Office of the Campus Rabbi. Published on the Internet under the sponsorship of Bar-Ilan University's International Center for Jewish Identity.
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Parashat Vayiqra 5761/ March 31, ?2001

B. "And ... restore that which he got through robbery"

Dr. Avraham Gottlieb
Interdisciplinary Department of Jewish Studies

This week's reading deals with the laws of burnt offerings, meal offerings, sacrifices of well-being (shelamim), sin offerings and guilt offerings, all of which are pleasing to the Lord. The reading concludes with an explanation of guilt offerings pertaining to robbery[1] – a sacrifice that must be brought by a person who has dealt deceitfully with his fellow in a matter of money and has sworn falsely concerning him (Lev. 5:21-26):

When a person sins ... dealing deceitfully with his fellow in the matter of a deposit or a pledge (money given him in a business partnership), or through robbery, or by defrauding his fellow, or by finding something lost and lying about it; if he swears falsely regarding any one of the various things that one may do and sin thereby - when one has thus sinned and, realizing his guilt, would restore that which he got through robbery or fraud, or the deposit that was entrusted to him, or the lost thing that he found, or anything else about which he swore falsely, he shall pay the principal amount and add a fifth part to it... Then he shall bring to the priest, as his penalty to the Lord, a ram without blemish from the flock ... as a guilt offering... The priest shall make expiation on his behalf before the Lord, and he shall be forgiven...

Thus we see that guilt for robbery is expiated only after the robber has restored the money to its rightful owner or his heirs, as the Mishnah explains, stating the general principle (B.K. 9.12):

If he has restored that which he got by robbery, but not yet brought his guilt offering, he has fulfilled the requirements; if he has brought his guilt offering, but not yet restored that which he got by robbery, he has not fulfilled the requirements. If he has restored the principal but not the additional fifth part, the fifth part is no impediment.

The Mishnah explains that if a robber brings the money he stole to the priests, before bringing a guilt offering, he has adequately fulfilled the requirements for expiation. But if he brings a guilt offering before restoring the stolen goods, he has not. Not having paid the extra fifth is no impediment to bringing a guilt offering, but the robber must pay it after his expiation. The implication of the Mishnah is that the robber's expiation lies principally in restoring that which has been stolen to its owners.

Now we must clarify whether the Torah speaks only of the punishment for our specific thief who has sinned doubly, once by robbing and once by swearing falsely, or whether there is a wider message applicable to many other situations. R. Ovadiah Sforno[2] adds an important point in his combined interpretation of verses 23-25:[3]

"He shall restore that which he got through robbery...then he shall bring a guilt offering": the sacrifice does not provide expiation unless he has appeased (piyyes) the damaged party before bring the offering, as the Sages said (in the Mishnah cited above): "if he has brought his guilt offering, but not yet restored that which he got by robbery, he has not fulfilled the requirement."

Sforno takes the interpretation a major step forward, explaining that expiation for robbery is completed by appeasing the damaged party. A robber essentially commits a two-fold sin: one, between himself and G-d, by violating the prohibition of the Torah, "You shall not commit robbery" (Lev. 19:13); and another between himself and his fellow man. Likewise, the process of expiation is two-fold: bringing a guilt offering and restoring that which has been stolen.

In other words, the robber's punishment of bringing a guilt offering is only part of the expiation process, which actually begins by appeasing the damaged party.The lesson this teaches concerns not only robbery, but any violation concerning relations between people. The Torah seeks to educate us to make amends whenever there has been a violation of any human virtue. Teaching us to do good deeds is accomplished first and foremost by refraining from doing evil, as in the words of the Psalmist: "Shun evil and do good" (Ps. 34:15). Good deeds will lead to a sound society based on good relations among people, and this will provide the necessary setting for performing the commandments regarding our relationship to G-d in the finest way. The ideal, of course, is that doing good come before shunning evil, for good deeds serve as preventive action, keeping us from evil.

Restoring that which has been stolen is part of the robber's repentance. The Torah emphasizes the objective of restoring the stolen goods, as Rav Ahai Gaon[4] notes in the sheiltot,[5] because "the House of Israel are forbidden to rob one another." In other words, the Torah seeks to eradicate the evil of robbery from the very root. Restoring the stolen goods as compensation for the damage is only one stage along the way of wiping out this evil altogether, along with appeasement of he who has been wronged.

The restoration called for in the command of the guilt offering thus has wider general application for all cries between Man and his fellow man.

[1] On the significance of this offering, see "Asham gezelot," Encyclopedia Talmudit, Vol. 2, Jerusalem 1987, pp. 265-266.
[2] Fifteenth century Italy, a broad-minded exegete, widely educated in medicine, philosophy, philology, and mathematics; often cites the Sages on ethics and proper human behavior.
[3]Beur ha-Sforno al ha-Torah, Zeev Gottlieb ed., Jerusalem 1992, p. 218.
[4] Rav Aha of Shabaha, a Babylonian city not far from Bazera; eighth century, one of the great rabbis of the geonic period.
[5] Sefer ha-Sheiltot, the first book written after the sealing of the Talmud, named after its author, unlike the many anonymous books which we have. On the author and his approach, see Sheiltot de-Rav Ahai Gaon, Rabbi Shmuel Kelman Mirsky ed., Bereshit, Jerusalem 1982, Intro., pp. 1-41. On the subject at hand, cf. Va-Yiqra, sheilta 85, p. 24.