The Additional Fifth
At the conclusion of the Torah portion Vayikra we learn5 that if a person commits a robbery, withholds funds, etc., and denies it by swearing falsely, he must — when seeking to atone for his crime — make restitution of the principal plus an additional 20percent
Our Rabbis explain6 that the reason for the additional fifth is “because the money went for naught while in his possession”: Money is used to earn money. In seeking to make restitution, the thief must therefore return not only the principal but a sum sufficient to make up for this loss of potential profit.
We find, however, in Tanya7 that when an individual acts badly toward another, the individual who was wronged should not be angered at the person who wronged him, for the damage that he suffered had been foreordained; the harm would have been done in any case, even if not committed by that particular agent.
Although the perpetrator is subject to punishment for his crime, for he could have chosen not to harm the other,8 (and the Heavenly decree would have come about in another manner, since “G-d has many messengers,”) this reckoning applies only to the person who caused the damage, and does not involve the injured party.
Indeed, if this damage had not been preordained, then the person would not have suffered at all, even if a wrongdoer wanted to harm him: Man’s free choice applies only to those acts that relate to himself; no individual can damage another without Divine consent.
Accordingly, the following question arises: The very fact that the thief stole a sum for a certain period indicates that this loss was preordained. Thus, even if the theft had not occurred, the victim would in any case be lacking the money for this period. This being so, why does the thief have to add a fifth when he makes restitution?
In truth, the same question applies even to the principal: Since Heaven decreed that the victim would lose the use of this money, and since this decree would have been realized even without the theft, why does the thief have to return the money to the victim at all? Why not give it to charity or the like?
The answer is obvious: The fact that the person had this money stolen from him does not necessarily indicate that he was to lose it permanently. Whether it was decreed that the person lose the money temporarily of permanently only becomes clear upon its return; if the thief gives back the money, then it is obvious that the loss was to be only temporary; if the stolen goods are never returned, we will then know that the decree was for a permanent loss.
Since we cannot know the nature of the decree, clearly the thief has no right to keep the money (or even delay its return) with the specious argument that by doing so he proves that the victim was meant to suffer a permanent loss. In the same way, it is wrong to hurt another person and justify this action with the argument that the victim was meant to suffer.
The same is true with regard to the additional fifth: Since adding this fifth means that the victim suffers no monetary loss, it is entirely possible that the victim was to lose this additional fifth only until the time of its return.
The above discussion contains an invaluable lesson in interpersonal relationships: When someone acts badly towards another, he may be tempted to think that since the person was destined to suffer anyway, he need not ask his forgiveness.
The answer is that by asking forgiveness, one lessens the other’s pain. A person does not have the right to inflict even greater pain by not asking forgiveness, for there is no proof that the other person was decreed to suffer that much. One must do all he can to lessen the pain of others.
Based of Likkutei Sichos , Vol. VII, pp. 9-16.
1. Vayikra 2:1.
2. Vayikra 1:9.
3. Devorim 20:19. See also Ta’anis 7a.
4. See Sefer HaMa’amarim 5659 p. 23ff; Likkutei Sichos XX p. 176ff.
5. Vayikra 5:21-24.
6. Klei Yakar ibid.
7. Igeres HaKodesh XXV.
8. See Rambam , Hilchos Teshuvah conclusion of ch. 6.