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Paying back stolen money

Question:

About 10 years ago, when I was in Yeshiva I was feeling very down and I used to take money from other people. I have since then regretted what I did and have tried to make up for what I have done.
Some of the people who I took money from, I managed to pay them back. Some I don’t know who they were so I am unsure of what to do.
I once heard in a shiur that if you give Tzedaka with them in mind then it is as if you payed them back. I have done this. I have also given money to an organisation (I have forgotten their name) which is set up for cases like these and it lends the money to people. It had the Haskama of many Gedolim including Rav Moshe Shternbuch and Rav Naftali Nussbaum Shlita.
1.  My question is do these methods actually work?

  1. I took the money over several years so it is very hard to work out how much I took. I am unable to give more at the moment, I am currently in debt – this could be a punishment for what I have done in the past. What is my chiyuv now, it is possible that I have payed up or I could still owe more money.
  2. One of the people I took money from, I bought gifts for him for that approximate value (plus a bit more) on his wedding gift list. Does this work? If I buy a gift for someone because I don’t want to admit taking money from him does this also work?
  3. If I have given this above organisation and them I remember one of the people who I had taken from do I now need to pay him or have I already fulfilled my chiyuv?
    Thank you.

Answer:

Hello,

  1. It is obviously better to give the money back to the person it was stolen from, however when that cannot be done, it would seem that this is a very good method. The money is given to the gemach, and they acquire the money in the name of the person that was stolen from, and when moshiach comes they will then know who the money has to be given back to. Now it is considered as if the money was given back to the owner and it is being used for lending out to poor people, and the owner is getting numerous mitzvos from the money that was given to him. As a side point, In Eretz Yisroel there is such a gemach called “Gemach Vehishiv” (run by R’ Feigenbaum 02-583-7901).
  2. The rule here is that one has to try to calculate what was stolen and give more than that. I can’t answer if you gave enough money to cover that amount or not.
  3. L’chatcila when a person returns money that was stolen, he has to let the person who it was stolen from know that his stolen money was now returned. In retrospect if it wasn’t told to the person, it is still considered that it was returned. Therefore, giving him the present did work.
  4. Since you could owe money to other people, use the money given to the gemach for a different person, and give the person that you now remember his money back.

After discussing the technical side of your question, there is another very important point that is important to remember. That when a person comes to do teshuva, he has to do the best he can, and after that, Hashem will take care of the rest. The Chovos Halevavos (Shar Hateshuva chap. 10) says this even regarding lashon hora, that even if he spoke lashon hora about a lot of people, he should do the best that he can, and Hashem will take care of the rest. For example, Hashem can put thoughts into the offended persons heart to be mochel you for anything that you might have done to them etc. In fact, there is a famous story with R’ Zalman Velozoner, that he insulted someone, and he could not find the person he offended, which caused him great anguish and he fell ill. The Vilna Gaon came to visit him and told him this idea from the Chovos Halevavos, and that caused him to get better.

Hashem should give you siyata dishmaya for whatever you need.

Best wishes

Sources:

סמ”ע סימן רלב ס”ק ז “מתנה. ז”ל הטור [סעיף א’ – ב’], דאיכא למימר במתנה כיון ליתנם לו או גזלו ומתבייש להודיעו וכיון להבליעו לו בחשבון. והוא הדין לכל המקבל מעות מחבירו בין בתורת הלואה בין בתורת פרעון, ואפילו לא היה לו עמו שום עסק מעולם איכא למימר אינש אחרינא מיגזל גזליה וא”ל להאי כי אתי פלוני גבך אבלע ליה בחשבון, עכ”ל”. בשו”ע הרב ה’ גזילה סעיף ח “שמ”מ אותם אנשים שמכיר שגזל מהם חייב להחזיר להם ולא די במה שנהנה ממנו”.

ערוך השולחן חושן משפט סימן שסו סעיף ג “וכשיעשה צרכי רבים יסבב ה’ שכל אחד מהנגזלים או מיורשיהם יהנה כפי ערך גזילתו ושימחלו לו והבא לטהר מסייעין אותו מן השמים”.

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