The mitzvah of returning lost objects is not always easy and not always quick.
By Rabbi Ari Enkin, Rabbinic Director, United with Israel
This week’s Torah portion is “Ki Teitzei” (Deuteronomy 21:10-25:19) and it is mitzvah packed!
One of these mitzvot is to return lost objects, as it says, “You shall not see the ox of your brother or his lamb wandering about and ignore them; you shall surely return them to your brother.”
Returning a lost object is an especially important and valuable mitzvah.
While this mitzvah might appear quite easy to fulfill, that might not actually be the case.
A found object must be gathered, cared for, publicized, and returned to the rightful owner after determining that the claimant is indeed the owner. So imagine if you find a lost goat! Let’s focus on the announcing and publicizing of a lost object that one finds.
In Temple times, lost objects found in Jerusalem would be announced in the Temple. In fact, there was a specially designated corner in the Temple that was designated as the nation’s “lost and found” section where people would come to announce and claim lost and found objects. On each of the holidays, for a minimum of three consecutive festivals, finders and losers would meet in this corner to try and reunite people with their lost objects.
A person had to make this announcement three times – on each of the Torah festivals. If an object is not claimed by this time (6-12 months!) the finder is permitted to keep it “until Elijah the Prophet comes and reunites everyone with their lost objects.” So you might be taking care of a goat for over a year before calling it a day! Not an easy mitzvah at all — unless you find a button or maybe a smartphone.
Nowadays one who finds a lost object should post a sign in the local synagogue and in the area where the item was found.
A Spiritual Push
Now here is something fascinating. Although the Talmud mentions the destruction of the Temple over a dozen times, there is only one time when such a passage concludes: “And may it be rebuilt speedily in our days.” That’s during a discussion on the topic of returning lost objects! Why is this?
It is explained that returning lost objects is a segula, a spiritual push, for the Temple to be rebuilt. The reason for this is that, to some extent, the Jewish people are “lost” as well! We are in exile. We are persecuted. We need the Messiah badly, and with it, the rebuilding of the Temple.
The rebuilding of the Temple represents the climax and culmination of a perfect world. A world where Godliness is openly experienced and there is no evil and sickness.
This will all take place when God sends the Messiah and gathers the Jews, his “lost objects” from the four corners of the earth. So, as mentioned, returning other people’s lost objects is a gentle reminder to God that He should return His lost “objects!”
Hashavat Aveida, the mitzvah of returning lost objects, is not always easy and not always quick. However, proper performance of this mitzvah will make another person very happy. May it remind God that He should make us happy, as well!
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