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I Stole $500. What Now?

Monday, 4 November, 2019 - 8:17 pm

Question of the Week:

 

I am a little embarrassed to write this, but my conscience won't allow me to keep it in any more. When I was 16 years old (almost 30 years ago) I would babysit for a neighbour. They always underpaid me. If I worked for three and half hours, they paid me for three. If I worked for 2 hours and 59 minutes, they paid me for 2. I really resented it. One time I found $500 cash in a kitchen draw. I took it, justifying in my mind that they owed me at least that much. They never suspected anything. I'm pretty sure they never even knew the money was there in the first place. I look back with shame and know I did wrong. I stole. But this was so long ago. According to the Torah, how do I fix this? Do I have to pay back? Must I actually face them? 

 

Answer:

 

Most of us have embarrassing stories from our younger days. Lucky we are not all politicians, so these stories don't get dug up and become front page news. 

 

To correct an act of stealing, you need to return the money to its rightful owner. But that is not enough. You also need to apologise. Stealing doesn't just rob someone of their money, it is an invasion of their space. Taking their property is also trampling their dignity. For this you need to ask them for forgiveness. 

 

However, in a case where the victim is not even aware that they have been robbed, an apology is not necessary, and perhaps even not proper. If they don't know the theft ever happened, then they suffered a financial loss, but not an emotional one. You still need to return the money, but you can do that anonymously and without explanation. Asking forgiveness would itself cause them unnecessary hurt. 

 

This is all assuming that they never knew of the theft. But what if they did eventually realise that they had been robbed? In such a case you do need to apologise. The question is, can you apologise anonymously?

 

Ideally not. You should really own up to the act and ask for forgiveness. But the Torah wants to open the doors for those who sincerely want to right their wrongs, and make it easier and not harder. So the Torah allows you to apologise anonymously in a case where the victim didn't ever suspect you were the one who stole from them. If you send them the money with a nameless heartfelt request for forgiveness, and you ensure that they indeed receive it, then you have made amends and you can put it behind you. 

 

This misdeed happened long ago, but you can still correct it. Whether or not you run for president, you want a clean slate.   

 

Good Shabbos,

Rabbi Moss

 

Source:

Igros Moshe Choshen Mishpat 1:88

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