This week, we will be learning the Halachos of “G’zeila V’Aveida — the laws of stolen and lost objects” in the Rambam. Before we get into the specific laws discussed in this section, we need to address a more basic question: Why would the Rambam connect the laws of lost objects with the laws of stolen objects, as they seemingly have no connection! Stealing an object is a sin, while losing an object is just something that happens on occasion?!
Out of the 18 chapters of which this section comprises, the first 10 deal with theft and the final 8 deal with lost objects. Why do they have to even be attached?
The classical explanation may be that failing to return a lost object to its owner constitutes stealing. However, this form of theft would be better classified as g’neiva (theft that is at first unknown to the victim — the subject of the previous set of Halachos in this book of the Mishneh Torah), rather than g’zeila (armed robbery of which the victim is aware). After all, finding a lost object and bringing it into one’s possession is not only allowed, but also a mitzvah! Only that holding on to it and not returning it to its owner is sinful.
If anything, the Ramba should have attached the laws of aveida to the previous laws of g’neiva?!
What’s The Connection of “Lost” and “Stolen”?
The Rebbe (Asara B’Teves 5745, ois 17) explains: While stealing itself is a sin, it also represents the whole concept of sinning in general.
When an object is stolen, it goes from the jurisdiction of its rightful owner, to foreign jurisdiction. The same is true with every sin: A Yid — and the entire world — belongs to Hashem. When a person does a sin, they are transferring their existence from the jurisdiction of Hashem to the jurisdiction of impurity without the consent of their true owner. Thus, every sin is an act of theft from Hashem.
What causes a person to sin? Seemingly, every Jew has a soul that is eternally connected to, and aware of, Hashem. So what can cause a Jew to sin? Our sages (Sota 3a) tell us: “Reish Lakish says: A man commits a transgression only if a spirit of folly [ruach shtus] enters him.” It is not a rational decision that leads a Jew to sin, rather he is convinced to act foolishly by his evil inclination.
Who Is a Fool?
What is the halachic definition of a fool?
The Gemara (Chagigah 4a) says: “ֹWho is an imbecile? One who destroys whatever is given to him.”
While the literal understanding of the Gemara is talking about someone losing objects given to him, Chassidus has a deeper understanding of this Gemara: The part of the Yid which is always connected to Hashem is called מַה, (literally meaning “what” which describes ultimate bittul — see Tanya, Chapter 3). When someone does a sin, i.e, an act of folly, it is because they have lost touch with their מַה — their Neshama.
Now we can understand what the Rambam is teaching us by combining these two groups of Halachos: Every g’zeila (sin) is a direct result of an aveida (losing touch with your Neshama). Thus, if we want to return the stolen object (Teshuva), one must first find the lost object (Neshama) that is within the person himself.
The same is true with the Avoda of a Jew in the world: the entire world was created by Hashem and really should recognize and reveal Hashem’s presence. Yet the reality is that there is a big concealment of G-dliness in the world and the true lifesource of the world is “lost and stolen” by the forces of concealment and impurity. It is the job of the Jew to “return” the “stolen and lost objects” by revealing G-dliness in the world through our learning of Torah and performance of Mitzvos.
No Amount Is To Small
After this introduction, we can better appreciate several halachos on this matter.
The first is what the Rambam teaches (1:2) that “It is forbidden to rob even the slightest amount.” This contains a deep message to every Jew: Many of us would be very happy if 99.9% of the world is elevated and expresses G-dliness. Yet to Hashem, it is not enough! If even the smallest part of creation remains void of a revealed connection to Hashem, if even one Jew remains unaware of their Neshama, we must continue to work, as “it is forbidden to rob even the slightest amount.”
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A Special Mitzvah for Thieves Only
The fifth mitzvah discussed in this section is “to return the stone object.” Naturally, this mitzvah cannot be practiced by an upstanding Jew, but it does have a message that most of us can implement:
A Jew must also be aware (and make others aware) that even if they have “stolen” by sinning, they mustn’t lose hope. They still have the mitzvah of “returning the stolen object.” Hashem has put into the Torah a remedy for sin and is always ready to accept the Teshuva of a Jew. [Obviously, a person should not sin with the reasoning that they can always do Teshuva, but if a sin was committed they should know that Hashem is waiting for them to return.]
A Message to a Lost and Stolen World
The connection of the above to our Avoda of preparing ourselves and the world around us for Moshiach is obvious:
In the time of exile, the world is in a constant state of being “lost and stolen” as the truth of Hashem is concealed. The Jewish people too have been exiled — “lost and stolen” — from their holy land of Eretz Yisrael, and many Jews have lost touch with their Neshama.
The time of the Geula is the ultimate fulfillment of the Mitzvah to return all the lost and stolen objects. It is our job to reach every Jew, as the Rambam writes that Moshiach will “compel all Jews to go in the way of Torah” and share with them the good news: Moshiach is ready to come! Let’s return to Hashem and hasten his arrival through acts of goodness and kindness.