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Do Not Steal1 Part 21

This week, we continue with the laws of rectifying the sin of stealing.

What should the guilty person do in the event that he does not know the identity of his victims. This can occur when a person cheated the public in some way. For example, he may have used false weights or deliberately given too little change on many occasions, over the course of a significant period of time. In such instances, it is extremely unlikely that he will remember all the people that he cheated.

The first stage of rectification is to try to determine the total amount of money stolen. If that is impossible, then he should estimate an amount that he believes equals or exceeds what he actually took.

Then he should try to fund a community need such as a library, or a mikva. In this way, he can, in time, hopefully reimburse his victims the amount of money that he stole from them. The money should be given in an anonymous manner if at all possible, so that he should not receive any undeserved recognition for his 'donation'. It is insufficient to give stolen money to poor people or a charity that does not serve communal needs, because this would not benefit the victim. Needless to say, it is almost impossible for the guilty person to fully compensate all his victims - this should be a forewarning as to the seriousness of stealing, and how difficult it is to rectify this sin.

If the victim is no longer alive, one must make restitution to the victim's heirs.

[1] Much of the information for this essay is taken from "Halachos of Other People's Money" by Rabbi Yisroel Pinchos Bodner.

Text Copyright 2009 by Rabbi Yehonasan Gefen and

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