Living Torah by Rabbi Ari Enkin
This week’s Torah portion is Ki Teitze (Deuteronomy 21:10-25:9) and it’s full of mitzvot – more than 60 of the 613 mitzvot of the Torah are found in this week’s reading! One of these mitzvot is that of hashavat aveida – returning lost property. The laws of returning lost property occupy a larger-than-average section of the Talmud including minute details as to what type of objects must be returned, who must return them, how long they must be held for, how to dispose of unclaimed lost object, and much much more.
One is required to go to great lengths to find the owner of a lost object. Indeed, if it was you who lost a valuable or sentimental object, wouldn’t you want the finder to make heroic efforts to try and find you? It might just be that this is one of the primary mitzvot of the Torah that ensures an open and socialized society between citizens complete with acts of brotherly love. Only if one has exhausted all reasonable efforts to find the rightful owner may the finder keep the lost object. Whoever said “finder’s keepers, loser’s weepers” certainly never read this week’s Torah portion. If it’s not yours, well, it’s not yours!
Our sages did not hesitate to go out of their way for another person’s lost object. They were indifferent to their time and dignity when they discovered that an object had been lost, undoubtedly causing their owner worry, distress, or worse. For example, Rabbi Zundel of Salant once saw from the synagogue window while he was in the middle of praying that someone’s farm animal wandered away from its flock. Not only did this take place during synagogue services, it was on Yom Kippur, no less! No matter – Rabbi Zundel left the synagogue as services continued –wearing his tallit- and returned the animal to its rightful owner. The umbrella in the Yeshiva of Kelm is another famous story: A guest once forgot his umbrella in the Yeshiva of Kelm. Thirteen years later (!) the guest returned to the yeshiva to find his umbrella in the the yeshiva’s lost and found pile! There are many more such stories.
The mitzva of hashavat aveida reminds us that God is the Master of the Universe and it is He who decides what we will own, what we will earn, and what rightfully belongs to us. One who keeps something that is not his is essentially denying that God knows what is best for us and what we need in our lives! If God wants you to have a something He will ensure that it comes to you in a dignified manner rather than happening upon it on the street and quickly pocketing it without making an effort to locate its rightful owner. Our God knows that thoughts of every person and will reward all of us accordingly!
Perhaps if we were all more careful about returning items to their rightful owner, the world will recognize that the Jewish People are rightful owners of the Land of Israel! We pray for that day…
Shabbat Shalom from Israel!
Rabbi Ari Enkin
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