Introduction to Hilchos Gezelah va'Avedah

[This text] contains seven mitzvot: two positive commandments and five negative commandments. They are:
1) Not to rob;
2) Not to withhold money due a colleague;
3) Not to covet [what belongs to a colleague];
4) Not to desire [what belongs to a colleague];
5) To return an article obtained by robbery;
6) Not to ignore a lost article;
7) To return a lost article.

These mitzvot are explained in the chapters [that follow].

הלכות גזילה ואבידה - הקדמה יש בכללן שבע מצות. שתי מצות עשה. וחמש מצות לא תעשה: וזה הוא פרטן:
א) שלא לגזול
ב) שלא לעשוק
ג) שלא לחמוד
ד) שלא להתאוות
ה) להשיב את הגזילה
ו) שלא יתעלם מן האבדה
ז) להשיב האבדה: וביאור מצות אלו בפרקים אלו:

1

Whoever robs an object worth a p'rutah from a colleague transgresses a negative commandment, as Leviticus 19:13 states: "Do not rob."

Violation of this negative commandment is not punished by lashes, because it can be corrected by the fulfillment of a positive commandment. For if a person robs, he is obligated to return what he obtained by robbery, as ibid. 5:23 states: "And he shall return the article he obtained by robbery." This is a positive commandment.

Even if the robber burned the object that he obtained by robbery, he is not punished by lashing, because he remains obligated to pay its value. And whenever the transgression of a negative commandment results in a financial penalty, it is not punished by lashing.

א

כָּל הַגּוֹזֵל אֶת חֲבֵרוֹ שְׁוֵה פְּרוּטָה עוֹבֵר בְּלֹא תַּעֲשֶׂה שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (ויקרא יט יג) "לֹא תִגְזל". אֵין לוֹקִין עַל לָאו זֶה שֶׁהֲרֵי הַכָּתוּב נִתְּקוֹ לַעֲשֵׂה שֶׁאִם גָּזַל חַיָּב לְהַחְזִיר שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (ויקרא ה כג) "וְהֵשִׁיב אֶת הַגְּזֵלָה אֲשֶׁר גָּזָל" זוֹ מִצְוַת עֲשֵׂה. וַאֲפִלּוּ שָׂרַף הַגְּזֵלָה אֵינוֹ לוֹקֶה שֶׁהֲרֵי הוּא חַיָּב לְשַׁלֵּם דָּמֶיהָ וְכָל לָאו שֶׁנִּתָּן לְתַשְׁלוּמִין אֵין לוֹקִין עָלָיו:

2

It is forbidden to rob even the slightest amount.

It is forbidden even to rob or to withhold money from a gentile who worships idols. If one robs or withholds money from such a person, one must return it.

ב

וְאָסוּר לִגְזל כָּל שֶׁהוּא דִּין תּוֹרָה אֲפִלּוּ עַכּוּ''ם אָסוּר לְגָזְלוֹ אוֹ לְעָשְׁקוֹ. וְאִם גְּזָלוֹ אוֹ עֲשָׁקוֹ יַחְזִיר:

3

What is meant by a robber? A person who takes by force property belonging to a colleague. For example, a person who seizes movable property from a colleague's hand, who enters a colleague's domain and takes utensils against his colleague's will, who seizes a colleague's servants or livestock and makes use of them, or who enters a colleague's field and eats his produce. These and any similar acts are considered robbery, as reflected by II Samuel 23:21, which states: "And he robbed the spear from the Egyptian."

ג

אֵי זֶהוּ גּוֹזֵל זֶה הַלּוֹקֵחַ מָמוֹן הָאָדָם בְּחָזְקָה כְּגוֹן שֶׁחָטַף מִיָּדוֹ מִטַּלְטְלִין אוֹ שֶׁנִּכְנַס לִרְשׁוּתוֹ שֶׁלֹּא בִּרְצוֹן הַבְּעָלִים וְנָטַל מִשָּׁם כֵּלִים. אוֹ שֶׁתָּקַף בְּעַבְדּוֹ וּבִבְהֶמְתּוֹ וְנִשְׁתַּמֵּשׁ בָּהֶן. אוֹ שֶׁיָּרַד לְתוֹךְ שָׂדֵהוּ וְאָכַל פֵּרוֹתֶיהָ וְכָל כַּיּוֹצֵא בָּזֶה הוּא גּוֹזָל. כָּעִנְיָן שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (שמואל ב כג כא) "וַיִּגְזל אֶת הַחֲנִית מִיַּד הַמִּצְרִי":

4

What is meant by withholding a colleague's due? It refers to a person who was given money willingly by a colleague and then, when it was demanded of him, he forcefully maintained possession of it and refused to return it. For example, a person was given a loan or had hired a colleague, and when payment was demanded he forcefully refused to pay. Concerning this we were commanded, Leviticus 19:13: "Do not withhold money from your colleague."

ד

אֵי זֶהוּ עוֹשֵׁק זֶה שֶׁבָּא מָמוֹן חֲבֵרוֹ לְתוֹךְ יָדוֹ בִּרְצוֹן הַבְּעָלִים וְכֵיוָן שֶׁתְּבָעוּהוּ כָּבַשׁ הַמָּמוֹן אֶצְלוֹ בְּחָזְקָה וְלֹא הֶחֱזִירוֹ. כְּגוֹן שֶׁהָיָה לוֹ בְּיַד חֲבֵרוֹ הַלְוָאָה אוֹ שְׂכִירוּת וְהוּא תּוֹבְעוֹ וְאֵינוֹ יָכוֹל לְהוֹצִיא מִמֶּנּוּ מִפְּנֵי שֶׁהוּא אַלָּם וְקָשֶׁה. וְעַל זֶה נֶאֱמַר (ויקרא יט יג) "לֹא תַעֲשֹׁק אֶת רֵעֲךָ":

5

Whoever robs is obligated to return the article that he obtained by robbery itself, as it is written: "And he shall return the article he obtained by robbery." If this article was lost or underwent a change, the robber must pay its value. Whether he admits the robbery himself, or witnesses come and testify that he committed robbery, he is required to pay only the principal that he obtained by robbery.

Even if a person robbed a beam and used it in building a house, Scriptural Law requires that he tear down the entire building and return the beam to its owner, for the beam remained unchanged. Nevertheless, to encourage robbers to repent, our Sages ordained that the robber pay the worth of the beam and did not require him to destroy his building. The same applies in all similar situations.

Even if a person robbed a beam and used it in building a sukkah on Sukkot, and the owner came and demanded the return of the beam in the midst of the festival, the robber is required to pay only its value. After the conclusion of the festival, however, since the beam remains unchanged and it was not permanently affixed with mortar, the robber must return the beam itself.

ה

כָּל הַגּוֹזֵל חַיָּב לְהַחְזִיר הַגְּזֵלָה עַצְמָהּ שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (ויקרא ה כג) "וְהֵשִׁיב אֶת הַגְּזֵלָה אֲשֶׁר גָּזָל". וְאִם אָבְדָה אוֹ נִשְׁתַּנֵּית מְשַׁלֵּם דָּמֶיהָ. בֵּין שֶׁהוֹדָה מִפִּי עַצְמוֹ בֵּין שֶׁבָּאוּ עָלָיו עֵדִים שֶׁגָּזַל הֲרֵי זֶה חַיָּב לְשַׁלֵּם הַקֶּרֶן בִּלְבַד. אֲפִלּוּ גָּזַל קוֹרָה וּבְנָאָהּ בַּבִּירָה הוֹאִיל וְלֹא נִשְׁתַּנֵּית דִּין תּוֹרָה הוּא שֶׁיַּהֲרֹס אֶת כָּל הַבִּנְיָן וְיַחְזִיר קוֹרָה לִבְעָלֶיהָ. אֲבָל תִּקְּנוּ חֲכָמִים מִפְּנֵי תַּקָּנַת הַשָּׁבִים שֶׁיִּהְיֶה נוֹתֵן אֶת דָּמֶיהָ וְלֹא יַפְסִיד הַבִּנְיָן. וְכֵן כָּל כַּיּוֹצֵא בָּזֶה. אֲפִלּוּ גָּזַל קוֹרָה וַעֲשָׂאָהּ בְּסֻכַּת הֶחָג וּבָא בַּעַל הַקּוֹרָה לְתָבְעָהּ בְּתוֹךְ הֶחָג נוֹתֵן לוֹ אֶת דָּמֶיהָ. אֲבָל אַחַר הֶחָג הוֹאִיל וְלֹא נִשְׁתַּנֵּית וְלֹא בְּנָאָהּ בְּטִיט מַחְזִיר אֶת הַקּוֹרָה עַצְמָהּ:

6

When a person robs something worth less than a p'rutah, although he has committed a transgression, he is not required to return the article he obtained by robbery.

If a person robbed three bundles of vegetables or of branches that were originally worth three p'rutot, and their value decreased so that the three are now worth only two p'rutot, it is not sufficient for him to return two bundles. He is obligated to return the third, for it was originally worth a p'rutah.

If the person robbed two items together worth a p'rutah and returned one of them, he is not considered to possess an article that was robbed, nor has he an obligation to return the item that was robbed.

ו

הַגּוֹזֵל פָּחוֹת מִשְּׁוֵה פְּרוּטָה אַף עַל פִּי שֶׁעָבַר אֵינוֹ בְּתוֹרַת הֲשָׁבַת גְּזֵלָה. גָּזַל שָׁלֹשׁ אֲגֻדּוֹת שָׁווֹת שָׁלֹשׁ פְּרוּטוֹת וְהֻזְּלוּ וַהֲרֵי שְׁלָשְׁתָּן שָׁווֹת שְׁתֵּי פְּרוּטוֹת וְהֶחְזִיר לוֹ שְׁתַּיִם חַיָּב לְהַחְזִיר הַשְּׁלִישִׁית הוֹאִיל וּבַתְּחִלָּה הָיְתָה שָׁוָה פְּרוּטָה. גָּזַל שְׁתַּיִם שְׁווֹת פְּרוּטָה וְהֶחְזִיר אַחַת גְּזֵלָה אֵין כָּאן מִצְוַת הֲשָׁבַת גְּזֵלָה אֵין כָּאן:

7

When a person robs from a colleague in a settled region, and in the desert offers to return the article that he obtained by robbery, the option is given to the person who was robbed. If he desires, he may take his article. If not, he may tell the robber: "I will accept the return of the article only in a settled region, lest it be taken from me here by powers beyond my control."

In such an instance, the article remains the responsibility of the robber until he returns it to the person in a settled region. The same principles apply with regard to payment for a robbed article.

ז

הַגּוֹזֵל אֶת חֲבֵרוֹ בַּיִּשּׁוּב וְהֶחְזִיר לוֹ גְּזֵלָתוֹ בַּמִּדְבָּר הָרְשׁוּת בְּיַד הַנִּגְזָל אִם רָצָה נוֹטֵל וְאִם לָאו אוֹמֵר לוֹ אֵינִי נוֹטֵל אֶלָּא בַּיִּשּׁוּב שֶׁמָּא תֵּאָנֵס מִמֶּנִּי כָּאן. וַהֲרֵי הִיא בִּרְשׁוּת הַגַּזְלָן וּבְאַחֲרָיוּתוֹ עַד שֶׁיַּחֲזִירֶנָּהּ לוֹ בַּיִּשּׁוּב. וְכֵן בִּדְמֵי הַגְּזֵלָה:

8

When a person robs money from a colleague and returns it by including it in change he returns to the person whom he robbed, he fulfills the obligation of returning the article he obtained by robbery.

Moreover, even if the robber returned the money to a wallet belonging to the owner that contains money, he fulfills his obligation, because a person usually checks his wallet at all times, and the owner will count the money that was returned together with his money. The rationale is that an accounting that is made without the owner's having been informed of the money's return is sufficient.

If the robber returned the money that he obtained by robbery to a wallet that is empty, he does not fulfill his obligation. He remains responsible for the money he obtained by robbery] until he informs the owner that he returned the money to that particular wallet.

ח

הַגּוֹזֵל אֶת חֲבֵרוֹ וְהִבְלִיעַ לוֹ בְּחֶשְׁבּוֹן יָצָא. וְאִם הֶחְזִיר לְכִיסוֹ שֶׁיֵּשׁ בּוֹ מָעוֹת יָצָא שֶׁאָדָם עָשׂוּי לְמַשְׁמֵשׁ בְּכִיסוֹ בְּכָל שָׁעָה וַהֲרֵי מָנָה הַמָּעוֹת שֶׁהֶחְזִיר לוֹ בִּכְלַל מְעוֹתָיו וּמִנַּיִן שֶׁלֹּא מִדַּעַת פּוֹטֵר. וְאִם הֶחְזִיר לְכִיס שֶׁאֵין בּוֹ כְּלוּם לֹא יָצָא וְחַיָּב בְּאַחֲרָיוּת הַגְּזֵלָה עַד שֶׁיּוֹדִיעוֹ שֶׁהֶחְזִיר לְכִיס פְּלוֹנִי:

9

Anyone who covets a servant, a maidservant, a house or utensils that belong to a colleague, or any other article that he can purchase from him and pressures him with friends and requests until he agrees to sell it to him, violates a negative commandment,even though he pays much money for it, as Exodus 20:14 states: "Do not covet."

The violation of this commandment is not punished by lashes, because it does not involve a deed. One does not violate this commandment until one actually takes the article he covets, as reflected by Deuteronomy 7:25: "Do not covet the gold and silver on these statues and take it for yourself." Implied is that the Hebrew tachmod refers to coveting accompanied by a deed.

ט

כָּל הַחוֹמֵד עַבְדּוֹ אוֹ אֲמָתוֹ אוֹ בֵּיתוֹ וְכֵלָיו שֶׁל חֲבֵרוֹ אוֹ דָּבָר שֶׁאֶפְשָׁר לוֹ שֶׁיִּקְנֵהוּ מִמֶּנּוּ וְהִכְבִּיר עָלָיו בְּרֵעִים וְהִפְצִיר בּוֹ עַד שֶׁלְּקָחוֹ מִמֶּנּוּ אַף עַל פִּי שֶׁנָּתַן לוֹ דָּמִים רַבִּים הֲרֵי זֶה עוֹבֵר בְּלֹא תַּעֲשֶׂה שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (שמות כ יד) (דברים ה יח) "לֹא תַחְמֹד". וְאֵין לוֹקִין עַל לָאו זֶה מִפְּנֵי שֶׁאֵין בּוֹ מַעֲשֶׂה. וְאֵינוֹ עוֹבֵר בְּלָאו זֶה עַד שֶׁיִּקַּח הַחֵפֶץ שֶׁחָמַד. כָּעִנְיָן שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (דברים ז כה) "לֹא תַחְמֹד כֶּסֶף וְזָהָב עֲלֵיהֶם וְלָקַחְתָּ לָךְ". חִמּוּד שֶׁיֵּשׁ בּוֹ מַעֲשֶׂה:

10

Anyone who desires a home, a wife, utensils, or anything else belonging to a colleague that he can acquire from him, violates a negative commandment at the time he thinks in his heart, "How is it possible to acquire this from him?" and his heart is aroused by the matter, as Deuteronomy 5:18 states: "Do not desire...." Desire refers to feelings in the heart alone.

י

כָּל הַמִּתְאַוֶּה בֵּיתוֹ אוֹ אִשְׁתּוֹ וְכֵלָיו שֶׁל חֲבֵרוֹ. וְכֵן כָּל כַּיּוֹצֵא בָּהֶן מִשְּׁאָר דְּבָרִים שֶׁאֶפְשָׁר לוֹ לִקְנוֹתָן מִמֶּנּוּ. כֵּיוָן שֶׁחָשַׁב בְּלִבּוֹ הֵיאַךְ יִקְנֶה דָּבָר זֶה וְנִפְתָּה בְּלִבּוֹ בַּדָּבָר עָבַר בְּלֹא תַּעֲשֶׂה שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (דברים ה יח) "לֹא תִתְאַוֶּה" וְאֵין תַּאֲוָה אֶלָּא בַּלֵּב בִּלְבַד:

11

Desire leads to coveting and coveting leads to robbery.For if the owners do not desire to sell despite the offer of much money and many supplications by friends, the person motivated by desire will be moved to robbery, as Michah 2:2 states: "They coveted houses and stole."

And if the owner stands up against them to save his property, or in another way prevents the person motivated by desire from robbing, he will be moved to murder. Take, for example, the narrative of Ach'av and Navot.

יא

הַתַּאֲוָה מְבִיאָה לִידֵי חִמּוּד וְהַחִמּוּד מֵבִיא לִידֵי גֵּזֶל. שֶׁאִם לֹא רָצוּ הַבְּעָלִים לִמְכֹּר אַף עַל פִּי שֶׁהִרְבָּה לָהֶם בְּדָמִים וְהִפְצִיר בְּרֵעִים יָבוֹא לִידֵי גֵּזֶל שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (מיכה ב ב) "וְחָמְדוּ בָּתִּים וְגָזָלוּ". וְאִם עָמְדוּ הַבְּעָלִים בְּפָנָיו לְהַצִּיל מָמוֹנָם אוֹ מְנָעוּהוּ מִלִּגְזל יָבוֹא לִידֵי שְׁפִיכוּת דָּמִים. צֵא וּלְמַד מִמַּעֲשֵׂה אַחְאָב וְנָבוֹת:

12

Thus, we see see that a person who desires another person's property violates one negative commandment. One who purchases an object he desires after pressuring the owners and repeatedly asking them, violates two negative commandments. For that reason, the Torah prohibits both desiring and coveting. If he takes the article by robbery, he violates three negative commandments.

יב

הָא לָמַדְתָּ שֶׁהַמִּתְאַוֶּה עוֹבֵר בְּלָאו אֶחָד וְהַקּוֹנֶה דָּבָר שֶׁהִתְאַוָּה בְּהֶפְצֵר שֶׁהִפְצִיר בַּבְּעָלִים אוֹ בְּבַקָּשָׁה מֵהֶן עוֹבֵר בִּשְׁנֵי לָאוִין. לְכָךְ נֶאֱמַר (שמות כ יד) (דברים ה יח) "לֹא תַחְמֹד" וְ(דברים ה יח) "לֹא תִתְאַוֶּה". וְאִם גָּזַל עָבַר בִּשְׁלֹשָׁה לָאוִין:

13

Whenever a person robs a colleague of even a p'rutah's worth, he is considered as if he took his very soul, as Proverbs 1:19 states: "Such are the ways of those who are greedy. They take away the soul of the owner."

Notwithstanding the severity of this sin, if the article that was taken by robbery no longer exists, and a robber seeks to repent and comes of his own volition to return the value of the article he obtained by robbery, our Sages ordained that one should not accept it. Instead, the robber should be helped and forgiven, to make the path of repentance more accessible to those who wish to return. Our Sages did not look favorably on anyone who accepts payment for an article that was taken from him through robbery.

יג

כָּל הַגּוֹזֵל אֶת חֲבֵרוֹ שְׁוֵה פְּרוּטָה כְּאִלּוּ נוֹטֵל נִשְׁמָתוֹ מִמֶּנּוּ שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (משלי א יט) "כֵּן אָרְחוֹת כָּל בֹּצֵעַ בָּצַע אֶת נֶפֶשׁ" וְגוֹ'. וְאַף עַל פִּי כֵן אִם לֹא הָיְתָה הַגְּזֵלָה קַיֶּמֶת וְרָצָה הַגַּזְלָן לַעֲשׂוֹת תְּשׁוּבָה וּבָא מֵאֵלָיו וְהֶחְזִיר דְּמֵי הַגְּזֵלָה. תַּקָּנַת חֲכָמִים הִיא שֶׁאֵין מְקַבְּלִין מִמֶּנּוּ אֶלָּא עוֹזְרִין אוֹתוֹ וּמוֹחֲלִין לוֹ כְּדֵי לְקָרֵב הַדֶּרֶךְ הַיְשָׁרָה עַל הַשָּׁבִים. וְכָל הַמְקַבֵּל מִמֶּנּוּ דְּמֵי הַגְּזֵלָה אֵין רוּחַ חֲכָמִים נוֹחָה הֵימֶנּוּ: