Ki Teitsei: Respect the property of others – even their schmattes!
Simla or salma? Both words are used for the term garment in the Torah.
In Parshat Ki Teitsei, where the Torah tells us that we have a responsibility to return lost property (Devarim 22:3), we are told that in the event that we find a ‘simla’ – somebody’s garment – we must identify who the real owner is and get it back to them. In Parshat Mishpatim, we are told not to steal anything that belongs to another person, and one of the examples given there is ‘salma’ – somebody’s garment.
The Meshech Chochma explains the difference. He tells us that ‘salma’ is an ordinary garment. ‘Simla’ is a quality garment. And in support of this he brings a verse from the book of Ruth 3:3. There we find Naomi preparing Ruth to meet Boaz. It was crucially important that she would impress him and therefore Naomi said to Ruth,
“Vesamt simlotayich alayich,” – “Put your simla on.”
This is an occasion on which you should wear your very best and so Rashi explains the word ‘simla’ to mean ‘bigdei shabbat,’ the clothes we wear on shabbat.
So there is a very powerful message for us emerging from the terminology used for garment. Hashem wants us to know that an integral part of our authentic Torah way of life is that we must respect the property of other people. This is usually obvious to us when it comes to a ‘simla’, something of great value. But even if we’re talking about a ‘salma’, a ‘schmatte’, that too is something that we must guarantee will get back to its rightful owner.
And of course we should never, God forbid, take even the most inconsequential item from another person which is not ours.