By Rabbi Meir Orlian

The Yamim Nora’im were reaching their climax. The shul was packed with men wrapped in talleisim and women dressed in white for Ne’ilah. The rabbi delivered an impassioned sermon emphasizing the tremendous last-minute opportunity for teshuvah, and exhorted each person to examine his ways.

Mr. Krumbein listened intently and the words penetrated his heart deeply. He was a simple person who earned his living as a shopkeeper but tried to observe the mitzvos properly, deal kindly with others, and learn Torah according to his available time. There were many things to do teshuvah for, but none of these were going to “make or break” his Yom Kippur. He searched for something that perhaps he had overlooked in previous years or that would set his life along a significantly better path.

Toward the end of his Shemoneh Esrei, he found himself saying Viduy: “Ashamnu, bagadnu, gazalnu . . . — We were guilty, we betrayed, we stole . . .”

Mr. Krumbein was perplexed. He wasn’t a thief. He hadn’t stolen. Or had he? There were times he had cut corners slightly with his customers; sometimes he hadn’t gotten around to paying the delivery boy; some extra stock on consignment was never returned to the suppliers. But what could he do about this? How could he remember whom he had cheated and by how much?

Suddenly the Viduy took on new meaning. If he was going to repent for gezel he had only a few minutes left to go through the teshuvah process: He regretted his actions; he confessed; he accepted not to do it ever again. But how could he fix what he had done—and moreover, on Yom Kippur itself?

After finishing Shemoneh Esrei, he noticed a dvar Torah in the weekly parashah sheet titled, “So That We Should Refrain From Stealing.” While he generally avoided reading parashah sheets during davening, this was essential for Yom Kippur! He grabbed the parashah sheet and was amazed to see that the article addressed his question: How does one repent from stealing?

The article first cited the words of the Shulchan Aruch (C.M. 360): “Anyone who steals is required to return the theft itself, as it says, ‘He should return the theft that he stole.’ If it is lost or changed, he pays its value.”

But what about the many people whom he no longer remembered?

This was addressed by the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch (182:7): “One who steals from many — such as a storeowner who measured with a deficient measure, or weighed with a deficient measure . . . or one who took interest from many—his repentance is difficult. Therefore, he should provide for public needs, so that those who were stolen from should also benefit. Nonetheless, he is required to return to those whom he knows he stole from, and does not fulfill his obligation by contributing to public needs.”

Mr. Krumbein began to see a glimmer of hope for proper repentance from gezel. But what to do now, as the clock ticked on, and the gates of Yom Kippur were about to close?

He continued reading. The final paragraph was a story about the Chofetz Chaim, who gathered his students before Ne’ilah and spoke to them about the severity of stealing. The Chofetz Chaim concluded that although it was now Yom Kippur, and it was not feasible to return the theft that day, each person should accept upon himself now to return the money after Yom Kippur. This acceptance to repay would be considered meanwhile as if he had done so.

Mr. Krumbein firmly accepted upon himself to return to those whom he knew he had cheated and also to donate to the local shul and community center.

When he said, “Ashamnu, bagadnu, gazalnu . . .” for the final time in chazaras ha’shatz, Mr. Krumbein was able to recite the Viduy with a lighter heart.

This article is intended for learning purposes and not to be relied upon halacha l’maaseh. There are also issues of dina d’malchusa to consider in actual cases.

Rabbi Meir Orlian is a faculty member of the Business Halacha Institute, which is headed by HaRav Chaim Kohn, shlita, a noted dayan. For questions regarding business halacha issues, or to bring a BHI lecturer to your business or shul, please call the confidential hotline at 877-845-8455 or email ask@businesshalacha.com. To receive BHI’s free newsletter, Business Weekly, send an email to subscribe@businesshalacha.com

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