My Jewish Standard Dear Rabbi Talmudic Advice Column for June (II): You Stole - Now Repent and Repay

Dear Rabbi: Your Talmudic Advice Column

Dear Rabbi,

Ten years ago when I was shopping in a big department store I saw a nice leather belt for sale on a table. Something came over me. I picked up the belt, I liked how it looked and I put it into my pocket. Shortly thereafter I walked out of the store without paying for it. No alarms went off. I went home and started to wear the belt. I had not done anything like this before and truly I do not know what moved me to act this way, to shoplift a small and paltry item that I surely could have paid for.

Recently I have become reflective and am trying to understand myself, introspective of my inner motives and some of my inexplicable actions of the past. Will it help me to give back the belt to the store or to offer to pay for it? If so should I do that anonymously or let the store know who I am?

Remorseful in Randolph

Dear Remorseful,

How are we supposed to act once we regret a little or a big action that we took in the past? What is better – to actively make amends involving other parties, or to privately recognize that we are human and prone to occasional failure, to learn from that, and to move on?

A situation like this where there appears to be a contradiction among value systems can be clarified when it is approached talmudically. On the one hand, commercial stores expect to incur some percentage of losses from shoplifting. After years have passed it makes no sense to me for you to go back with the belt or directly to offer payment. At this late date, the store managers probably would be amused by your story and not know what to do with your restitution.

On the other hand, you did violate a commandment. To make true amends you need to repent and repay. It seems like you have grown in self-awareness and repented. To repay the company, I suggest a simple, unconventional method. Go to the store (or go online to the store site), buy a gift card for the value of the belt, go home (or offline) and shred the card (or delete the emails and codes pertaining to it). The store will have received value back to its bottom line and you will have satisfied your needs to make restitution.

The Dear Rabbi column offers timely advice based on timeless Talmudic wisdom. It aspires to be equally respectful and meaningful to all varieties and denominations of Judaism. You can find it here on the first Friday of the month. Send your questions to DearRabbi@jewishmediagroup.com

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