SALT - Thursday, 10 Sivan 5778 - May 24, 2018

  • Rav David Silverberg
            Among the topics discussed in Parashat Naso is the atonement process required when a thief falsely swears innocence and then decides to repent for his crime.  Such an offender is required to verbally confess his wrongdoing, pay the stolen goods or money (plus a fine) to the victim, and bring a sacrifice.  The Torah then adds (5:8) that if the victim had died in the interim, and left no inheritors, then the payment is given to a kohen in lieu of the victim.
            As Rashi cites from Chazal (in the Sifrei), this refers to the case of a convert, who loses all legal familial relationships at the time of his conversion.  Somebody who was born a Jew, even if he dies without children, must have some relative – if only a distant one – to inherit money that is owed to him.  Therefore, if the Torah speaks of somebody without any inheritor, this can refer only to a convert who dies without offspring, and whose biological family members are not halakhically considered related to him once he converted.  Necessarily, the Torah here speaks of the case of somebody who steals from a convert who dies without offspring before the thief can return the stolen property, and the Torah requires the thief to make the payment to a kohen.
            The concept seemingly being established here by the Torah is that when a person has no human relatives, then his closest relative is God, as represented by the kohanim.  The thief in this case gives the money to a kohen because, as the victim is deceased and left no inheritors, his only “relative” is the Almighty, and thus the thief gives the money to His attendants, the kohanim.  More broadly, the Torah here perhaps teaches us that when it appears that we have no “relatives,” that we have nobody close to us, we in fact have, at very least, the Almighty, who is “close to all who call to Him, to all call to Him honestly” (Tehillim 145:18).  When we feel alone and forlorn, we are assured that God is our “relative” who cares for us and is close to us.  We all have occasions when we feel alone and vulnerable.  Even if we enjoy the company of loved ones, there are still times when we feel anxious, fragile and insecure.  The law of gezel ha-ger (the return of stolen property to a kohen in the case of a convert who dies without inheritors) teaches us that we are really never alone, that we can always turn to God in our times of need and fear, and that He is always ready to assume the place of a close friend or loving family member.