When I was a young teenager, I shoplifted small items from a number of stores. I’m trying to make amends now by returning the stolen items or paying for them.

However, (a) I’m way too embarrassed to tell the store owners that I stole from them, and (b) I don’t even remember all the stores. How can I go about making amends?


It takes courage to decide to turn your life around and make amends for your past wrongdoings. In this case, there are a number of components involved. Let’s break these down so you know which steps to take.

Returning Stolen Items

Although it seems obvious, there is actually a special commandment in the Torah regarding making amends for stolen items: “He shall return the article that he had stolen . . .”1 This teaches us that if you still have the actual item, you should return it (rather than just giving its monetary value). However, if the object is no longer in your possession, or has been altered, then you can return the monetary value of the object instead.2 If you don’t know the value of the item, you should estimate an amount that equals or exceeds the value.

Informing the Victim and Asking Forgiveness

If the victim is not even aware that someone stole from him, you never caused him pain or anguish, so you’re not required to actually ask for forgiveness. You can just return the object without informing him, as long as you’re certain that he’ll actually get it.3 For example, you can send it by certified mail.4

If, however, the victim is aware that someone stole, but he doesn’t know your identity, then in addition to returning the item, you also need to ask him for forgiveness, just as you would need to do any time you caused someone pain or anguish.5

In such a situation, although ideally you should inform the victim of your identity, if it is difficult or you’re embarrassed to do so, you can ask for forgiveness anonymously. For example, you can send an unsigned letter together with the returned item or its monetary value, explaining what took place and asking for forgiveness.6

If the victim knows of the theft as well as the identity of the thief, then if there is a possibility that he may think the money was sent to him for some other reason or from someone else, you need to reveal your identity when asking for forgiveness.7

What If You Don’t Know to Whom to Return It?

If you don’t know from whom you stole, then you should donate the value of the item to a cause or organization that benefits the entire community, hopefully including the victim.8

(If you know some but not all of the victims, you need to return to those that you do know, and donate for the rest.)

It should be stressed that although giving charity to the poor is a great and important mitzvah, in this situation the idea isn’t about giving charity; it is about returning the stolen object, and the target of your donation should be one with a broad impact, which you hope includes the victim.

Examples of this would be a local mikvah or volunteer ambulance (Hatzalah).

Since your aim is to rectify the past rather than make a “regular” donation, if possible, you should try to donate without receiving acknowledgement (e.g., getting your name put up on the donor wall).9

It often takes courage to repent and make amends, but it is certainly worth it. As the Talmud puts it, “The baal teshuvah (repentant one) stands in a place where even the perfectly righteous could never stand.”10