Talmidav Shel Aharon
34-5767: Mitzvah 68
August 14, 2007
Mitzvah 68 – It is a positive commandment to return whatever one has taken in robbery.
Hafetz Hayim: As Scripture says, “he shall restore what he took by robbery” (Lev.5:23). If a person seized by robbery something worth a perutah or more, he is to return it to the robbed person. If the robbed man has died, he is to return the seized object to the heirs. If the seized object is lost, he is to give its value in money. Included in this commandment there is also the duty of returning anything gained by theft or swindle. It applies everywhere and in every time for both men and women.
First of all, the definition of perutah is the smallest coin in the world of the ancient rabbis. Not only was it the smallest denomination of coin, but, as usual for the ancient world, it was also physically a small coin. The value of a coin was determined by the amount of the metal from which it was made. So larger coins were worth more than smaller ones.
Robbery is a crime. It is mentioned in the Bible and the penalty is, in some cases a fine of double the value of the stolen object if it is a moveable object. If it is cattle, the fine could increase to four or five times the value of the animal. No matter what the fine, the object that was stolen has to be returned to its owner. So, to be clear, robbery is not a mitzvah, but returning the seized object is. If the object is lost, than the value of the object is returned. And if the owner has died, it is to be returned to his heirs.
Finally, this law applies to all goods obtained illegally. If the object is not taken in an armed robbery but shoplifted, swiped, or gained by sleight of hand or by confusing the owner, than it still must be returned.
The point of all this is to insure that the person who stole the object could not benefit from his robbery. For example, if someone was the owner of a precious object and another offered him a fair price to buy it, but the owner declares that it is not for sale at any price since it has sentimental value. The buyer cannot steal it from the owner, and then pay the fine and keep the object. The object must also be returned. There is no difference if the object is valuable or not, one must return stolen goods.
This applies only to things that are moveable property. Real Estate that is stolen is a different category and the penalties are much higher since stealing property requires more effort. One must either move a boundary stone or pay witnesses to create a false bill of sale. Either way, it is a crime, in the bible against both human beings and G-d and a different set of laws applies.
This is a law designed to insure that “Crime does not pay”