It pains me to admit this, but I’m a shocking borrower. I borrow books—just for a day or two, of course—and keep them for months or even years past their due date. A friend lent me his electric drill so I could set up my sukkah, and six months later it’s still on my back porch. I’m embarrassed to even think about the number of pens that have passed through my hands through the years and have never been restored to their original owners.

Never lend me anything you’re really fond of, unless you mention it to my wife at the same time. She’ll set you right again; she makes it her business to go around the house every so often, returning lost and borrowed objects to their lawful owners.

I’ve been trying to learn from her example and to improve in the borrowing stakes. I’m getting better, and I believe that very soon I will be welcomed again in polite society and in public libraries.

I do understand the frustration of those from whom I borrow. I, too, frequently lend without being repaid. I, too, know the aggravation of searching my bookshelves for some long-cherished volume, with only vague recollections of lending it out to someone else sometime in the hazy past. I couldn’t count the money I’ve lost on “short-term” loans, and I pride myself on my willingness to forgive and forget.

However, even more insulting than forgetfulness is carelessness. There is nothing worse than lending out a pristine volume, and eventually receiving in return a ripped and ragged book with food stains all over it. If you were kind enough to lend out your power tools, you have a right to expect that they’ll be brought in out of the rain. And it is only common courtesy to check the oil and maintain the service regimen of any car we borrow.

There is a religious obligation to return to their owners that which we borrowed, in the same condition we received it—and, failing that, to cover losses that may eventuate. “If a man borrows from his neighbor and it is damaged or dies, as long as the owner is not with him at the time, he must surely make restitution” (Exodus 22:13). There is nothing wrong with borrowing per se, but the Torah requires the borrower to return the object to its owner. If things go wrong, if it breaks or dies, then the borrower must accept full responsibility (except if it died or was damaged due to normal use).

The owner was kind enough to lend it to you and allow you to use it. He surely deserves, at the very least, that you’ll cherish it in return.

According to Torah law, a borrower may avoid responsibility for damage done by proving that the owner was with him at the time the object was borrowed. To avoid potential liability, try to persuade the owner to work for you at the same time that you borrow his possession.

We all borrow from G‑d

G‑d entrusts us with our soul and strength, and allows us to exploit them for our own purposes. We can choose to spend our time wisely, or to dissipate ourselves in sloth and negligence. We are liable for the state of our own souls, and the final debt will devolve on no one but ourselves.

As we awake every morning, we beg loan of our souls from G‑d; and as we retire to sleep at night, our spirits are restored to their rightful place. Yet, who among us can claim to have honestly and conscientiously guarded this gift of life, or truly lived up to the promise that the new dawn brought? I am guilty of carelessness and neglect, and the scars and stains of existence reflect badly on my conscience.

I am afraid. I have damaged my soul, and will eventually be held accountable for my mistakes. My only hope is to take my G‑d with me. He redeems my soul in peace, and as long as I shelter in His shade, I am never truly alone.

I resolve to be better in the future. I pledge to turn my life around, and I will cherish and guard that which is not mine. However, as I undertake this commitment, I am comforted to know that G‑d is with me on my journey, and just as I set out accompanied by Him, He will accept me back under all circumstances and in any condition.