Torah Portion: Vayikra
“והשיב את הגזילה אשר גזל“ (ויקרא ה כג)
It is a positive commandment that a person who robbed an item from another fellow, he should return the stolen item itself — and not merely pay its value and keep the item — as it is written, He shall return the robbed item that he robbed (Vayikra 5:23).
The root of this mitzvah is obvious.
The laws of the mitzvah include: The obligation to return the item is only if the item is worth a perutah or more, but if it is worth less than a perutah, even though the person did thereby transgress the prohibition of stealing, there is no obligation to return the item. The reason for this is that the Jewish People — children of Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov — are generous people, descendants of generous people, and if the item is worth less than a perutahthan even the poorest Jew will forgive it and will not want it at all.
The basic law is that if a person robbed his fellow, even if it was worth just a single perutah, and the victim traveled to a distant location, nevertheless [the robber] must follow him even to the ends of the earth in order to fulfill the mitzvah of returning the stolen object. However, the Sages enacted that the robber should leave the item in the hands of his local Beis Din and inform them who the item belongs to. The court will then return it to the victim whenever he happens to come to that place.