The Guilty Person
Naso (Numbers 4:21-7:89 )
This week's parsha is a mixed bag of mitzvos. It starts with the responsibilities of the Tribe of Levi in the Mishkan. Among the other laws it covers are the laws of an impure individual, of the suspected wife and of the nazir, one who vows not to drink wine. We also find the law of a person who swears falsely in court denying a debt he owes to someone. The following verse tells us the law in such a case.
"Speak to the Children of Israel: when a man or a woman shall do any of these sins against man to act deceitfully against Hashem and that person incurred guilt (Hebrew: 'v'ashmah'). Then they shall confess their sin which they have done and he shall restore that wherein he is guilty together with the principal thereof, and add to it its fifth and give it to whom he is guilty (Hebrew: 'l'asher asham lo')."
To whom he is guilty - RASHI: To whom he owes the money.
WHAT IS RASHI SAYING?
Rashi tells us that the words in the Torah "To whom he is guilty" refer to the one to whom he owes the money.
What would you ask here?
A Question: What has Rashi told us? Isn't he telling us exactly what the Torah verse says?
WHAT IS BOTHERING RASHI?
An Answer: The Gur Aryeh suggests that there is a likely misunderstanding here. Verse 6 says "the person who incurred guilt" (the word "ashma" is used) and this refers to being guilty to God, as the Torah says just before these words ("acting deceitfully against Hashem"). I might have thought that when the Torah says "he shall restore to whom he is guilty" refers to giving an offering to God as atonement. But Rashi clarifies that the word "asham" in this verse does not mean "guilty"; it means "obligated to." So while the thief is guilty to God, he is obligated to make restitution to the man from whom he stole and swore falsely.
This may seem obvious, but Rashi is actually clarifying two matters, one linguistic and one moral. The linguistic lesson is that the Hebrew word "asham" can mean either "guilty" or "obligated"; they are not the same. The second matter is morally significant. A man should not feel he can atone for his theft by making "holy" use of the profits. The "Robinhood principle" (stealing from the rich and giving to the poor or to God) is not a Torah concept.