Among the many laws discussed in this week’s reading are the laws governing the responsibilities of shomrim — custodians.

One of the first details discussed regards a non-paid custodian who claims the item he was entrusted to watch was stolen and he is thus not liable to pay. He must though first approach the court and swear in support his claim it was stolen to be exempt. If we subsequently discover that he kept it for himself and merely sought to exonerate himself by falsely claiming it was stolen, he must make double restitution.

The verse that describes his initial ‘cover-up’ reads as follows:

... (he shall approach) ונקרב < (find the thief) ימצא הגנב < (if we cannot) אם לא <

The Baal HaTurim points out that the very first letters in this segment spell out, in exact order, the name of the great prophet אליהו — Eliyahu HaNavi.

He then explains its relevance by directing us to a discussion in the Talmud about a custodian whom two separate individuals deposited money with him for safekeeping. One deposited 200 maneh, the other 100 maneh. When they later both returned to retrieve their money each one claimed they deposited 200. The custodian had no recollection and is now in a bind as to how to proceed.

The Talmud goes on to declare that each one gets 100 — since either one deposited at least that much — and the third 100 maneh יהא מונח עד שיבוא אליהו, shall remain set aside until the prophet Eliyahu will come and determine the true owner! (ב"מ לז.)

But isn’t this totally out of context of the discussion at hand in the verse?

Is it simply the similar dilemma regarding ‘who is the real thief’ that justifies its placement here?

Why is Eliyahu the Prophet specifically the one burdened with this arduous task of revealing the identity of thieves in disguise?

A story is told that there was once a gathering of great Tzaddikim, among them the great Gaon Rav Yaakov Shimshon of Shepitovka and Reb Nachman of Breslov. The scholar posed the question of how is it possible that they will rely on the singular testimony of Eliyahu HaNavi when there is a clear verse that states ‘according to two witnesses... shall a matter be confirmed’?

While the sages silently pondered the question they observed on the face of Reb Nachman, that although quiet, was displeased with the question. They persisted, despite his reluctance, to get him to share his thoughts. He casually responded by quoting the last Mishna in Eduyos that describes how Eliyahu HaNavi will ‘distance those who have come close’ and ‘draw near those who had been distanced’, explaining it to be referring to the word שקר — falsity, whose letters in the order of the alef-beis are adjacent to each other, while the word for truth — אמת, are very distanced from one another. Eliyahu will defeat the ‘union’ of falsehood in the world, distancing from it, and promote truth, that often seems too distant to obtain, by drawing the letters ‘close’, standing firm and clear in its message.

There will be no need for witnesses, Reb Nachman asserted, for the truth will speak for itself so compellingly in the presence of the ultimate promoter of truth, Eliyahu, that the ‘thief’ will confess to his weakness. 

The astonished group acknowledged the answer with a collective and enthusiastic ‘Yeyasher’!

(Rav Elchonon Wasserman makes a similar assertion in his Kovetz Shiurim, Bava Basra 640)

The Torah’s depicts a custodian feigning innocence by falsely claiming someone else stole the item entrusted to him it, the Torah summoning him ונקרב, to ‘come near’ אלהים — the ‘court’ wherein the Divine Presence stands and swear to uphold his allegation.

Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch points out that this is only one of two places in the Torah where this נפעל — passive form is used. The other time it is employed is when Achan after having appropriated from the spoils of Yericho they vowed not to touch, is summoned ונקרבתם — ‘to place oneself before G-d’ to ascertain his innocence.

The nature of an oath is indicated in the word שבועה, the reflexive form of the number שבע — ‘seven’, meaning literally ‘to give oneself up to the seven’. As the creation of the visible concrete world was completed in six days and the seventh became the memorial and reminder of the Invisible One being and remaining in connection with the visible world as its Creator and Master.

One who boldly denies his own guilt, living in a world of שקר — falsehood, is beckoned to ‘fess up’ and be inspired by a world of ‘seven’, where the ‘Invisible’ becomes apparent, that will compel him to truthfulness.

The son of the famed Baal HaHaflaah, Rav Zvi Hirsh HaLevi Horowitz who succeeded his father as Rav of Frankfurt am Main, prophetically writes in his Lachmei Todah, that there will come a time when every misdeed will be re-classified as a merit, justifying all sorts of inappropriate behaviors as, ‘business practices’; ‘culture’; ‘healthy exposure’; ‘therapeutic discussions’, and more. This he suggests, tongue in cheek, is indicated in the Talmud statement that the Moshiach will come in a generation that is כולו זכאי — completely innocent. We will be so deluded by the false values around us that we will justify everything we do and ‘do no wrong’!

Eliyahu HaNavi in his incomparable pursuit of Emes will make it impossible to fool ourselves any longer.

This notion of ונקרב, is the key to bringing the final redemption. If only we would be willing to ‘come nigh’ and swear allegiance to the Invisible One, we could never see anything but the truth.

ונקרב is the numerical equivalent to משיח! (358)


צבי יהודה טייכמאן