Ki Seitzei 5779

Returning what was lost[1]

לא-תראה את-שור אחיך או את-שיו נדחים והתעלמת מהם השב תשיבם לאחיך
Do not see your brother’s ox or his sheep straying and hide yourself from them; [rather] you shall surely return them to your brother[2]

This week’s parsha contains more mitzvos than any other. One of them is a classic case where the Torah’s concern for interpersonal relationships is demonstrated. We are commanded to return lost objects to our friend. If we see that their possession was dropped, we have to make our best efforts to get it back into their hand. There are those that suggest that if we are commanded to be concerned for another’s monetary objects, all the more so we should be concerned for their souls[3]. However, as with everything in Torah, there are many layers of meaning[4]. Some want to suggest[5] that the verse itself is referring to a concern for another’s spiritual welfare.

We are enjoined not to see our brother straying from the path of the Torah and hide ourselves from what we saw. We shouldn’t close our eyes and plead ignorance. If someone is getting into bad behavior, or is acting inappropriately, we have to get involved[6]. If they’ve become cruel, greedy, or spiteful, we have to try return them to the proper path. The verse continues[7] that if our brother isn’t so close to us,  we have to bring the ox or sheep into our house. Following our analogy, even if we’re not so friendly with our straying peer, we should bring them into our house. We should try to be a positive influence.

A story in the gemarra[8] demonstrates this beautifully. Reish Lakish was known to be one of the worst bandits of his time. Once, he saw a beautiful woman bathing in the Jordan river. He jumped across the width of the river to pounce on her. He immediately realized he had mistaken a very attractive man for a woman. It was Rabbi Yochanan, the Sage. Rabbi Yochanan complemented Reish Lakish that he was so agile and full of energy. He said that if Reish Lakish would channel his energy towards Torah learning, he would introduce him to his sister. He added that she was more beautiful than he. Reish Lakish agreed, and he eventually became Rabbi Yochanan’s equal. This was because Rabbi Yochanan took to heart the lesson from the mitzvah to return someone’s lost object. Good Shabbos

[1] Based on Chasam Sofer Al HaTorah to Deuteronomy 22:1

[2] Deuteronomy loc. cit.

[3] Shenei Luchos HaBris Torah Sh’b’kesav parshas Kedoshim s.v. שלא לעמוד על דם; Minchas Chinuch 239:6. See also the Chofetz Chaim’s introduction to Chomas HaDas

[4] Some say there are seventy faces to the Torah (Bamidbar Rabbah 13:15, Zohar I p. 26a, 47b, 54a, Ibid III p. 20a, 160a, amongst others). Others say that there are forty-nine faces to the Torah (Vayikra Rabbah 26:2, Shir HaShirim Rabbah 2:13, Tanchuma Yashan Chukas § 7, Midrash Tehillim 12:3, amongst others). The Vilna Gaon on Song of Songs 2:4 explains that the seventy faces are for the Oral Torah, whereas the forty-nine are for the written Torah. See also Maggid Meisharim end of parshas Tzav and Shenei Luchos HaBris Shevuos beginning of Torah Ohr

[5] Besides the Chasam Sofer, the Sha’ar Yosef ad. loc. brings Ohr HaChaim ad. loc. and Michtav Sofer I p. 53a. The Chasam Sofer doesn’t explain how we see the verse to be talking about our fellow who is straying. The Ohr HaChaim says that animals are often parables for humans. As well, the Jewish people are Hashem’s holy flock. Hashem therefore is the “brother” of the verse. The Michtav Sofer says the ox represents those who fail at the test of wealth (see Proverbs 14:4), and the sheep represents those who fail the test of poverty and exile (see Jeremiah 50:17). See there. See also Derashos Chasam Sofer II p. 373 col. 3

[6] Leviticus 19:17 describes the mitzvah to reprove one’s fellow

[7] Ibid v. 2

[8] Bava Metzia 84a