At the close of the Parshah of Vayikra, the Torah teaches that a person who denied under oath that he had another’s money in his possession, but later admitted having sworn falsely and having had the money all along—such a person must return the money to its rightful owner, “. . . and he shall add to it a fifth (of its value); to him to whom (the money) belongs shall he give it on the day of his guilt” (Leviticus 5:24).

If the verse had not explained that the “fifth” must be given to the victim of the crime, we might have supposed that the thief should give the fine for Sanctuary use, in effect “giving it to G‑d” to atone for having sworn falsely with G‑d’s name. After all, the idea of the fine is not that the victim should receive a bonus for his loss, but that the thief be punished. So long as the money is taken away from the thief, the beneficiary is immaterial—we might think.

The Torah therefore declares that the entire sum, including the fine of a fifth, be given to the victim of the crime.

Torah laws fall into two categories:

  1. Religious precepts affecting the relationship between man and G‑d, such as Shabbat, kosher and the like.
  2. Laws guiding the conduct of man to his fellow, such as the laws of honesty, refraining from stealing, slander and so on.

Yom Kippur, the day of forgiveness, atones for sins between man and his Creator, but it does not atone for wrongdoing against another person. The wronged person must be asked for forgiveness.

A person is made aware that he has wronged his fellow through injury, embarrassment or the like. He knows that he should ask the other’s forgiveness. But his evil inclination cleverly intervenes: “An individual who is the victim of injury or embarrassment should not feel a personal anger towards the one who wronged him, for it was decreed in heaven that he should be harmed.1 So we have been taught. If I had not hurt him, someone else would have anyway—for it was decreed that he would suffer. It follows that his suffering cannot really be attributed to me. So why on earth should I go and ask his forgiveness? Oh, it’s true that I did something wrong by choosing of my own free will to attack him. But that’s between me and G‑d; I have to repent, to fast, to go to synagogue and recite Psalms, to give money to charity—all to attain G‑d’s atonement. But I surely don’t have to ask the other person to forgive me!”

So speaks the cunning evil inclination. But the Torah’s answer is straightforward. The attitude that the Torah requires the wronged person to take (not to feel personal anger at his attacker, etc., as above) is his duty and his concern; it is not the concern of the one who wronged him. Let the attacker not adopt the philosophy of his victim!

By asking his victim for forgiveness, the attacker reduces somewhat the pain and distress he caused him, and he is duty-bound to do everything in his power to reduce his fellow’s distress.2