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G-d spoke to Moses, saying: "If a person sins… and swears dishonestly, denying having stolen an article… he shall return the stolen article plus an additional fifth of its value… and bring a guilt offering… Then he will be forgiven…" (5:20-26).
The Torah states that a korban chatat - a sin offering - was to be brought for accidentally transgressing things forbidden by the Torah. After the offering was completed, the sin would "be forgiven". The sin offering was not to be brought, however, if the person had intentionally done wrong.
However, there are exceptional cases in the Torah where an offering could be brought for a transgression done on purpose. Included is the above: where a person falsely denies under oath having stolen property. A person has stolen an article and lied under oath. He then changes his mind and decides to own up. The Torah gives him a chance to repent by returning the articles or their value, adding an extra fifth to the value, and bringing a guilt offering. And the Torah declares that afterwards that he will be forgiven.
It comes out that despite theft being the eighth of the Ten Commandments, the Torah treats it much more leniently than what was the norm of contemporary civilizations. In ancient Babylonian society theft was punishable by death, whereas the Torah invites the thief to correct the wrong by compensating the owner and bringing an offering to the Temple.
This contrasts with the different attitudes to adultery - the seventh commandment - which is the prohibition of a man sleeping with a woman married to someone else. In contemporary societies, adultery could sometimes be corrected by paying due compensation to the woman's husband. The Torah, however, treats it as a capital offence, with no provision for putting things right after the act.
This may be explained in the following way. The Torah gets to the bottom of human nature. Objects are replaceable, family integrity is not. Life continues after objects go missing or are destroyed. The world contains enough resources for their material replacement. They are, after all, objects.
Adultery by its very nature cannot be erased. Once the deed is done, it is done. It is not merely a physical act, but a deeply emotional act. And paying compensation does not erase that the sacred bond holding together the husband and wife, and family, has been broken…
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Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.
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Also by Jacob Solomon:
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