By: Chaya Sora Jungreis-Gertzulin
Finders keepers, losers weepers.
A child’s chant, but for those immersed in Torah and mitzvos, hashavas aveidah, returning a lost item is a way of life.
We read in Parshas Ki Seitzei about the obligation to go out of one’s way to return lost property. “… you shall surely return them to your brother.” (Devarim 22:1)
The Torah continues: “So shall you do for his donkey, so shall you do for his garment, so shall you do for any article of your brother that may become lost from him and you find it, you shall not hide yourself.” (Devarim 22:3).
It was an “errand running” morning. I dropped off some clothing at the cleaners, and on my way back to the car I spotted a beautiful, well-made jacket laying on the sidewalk. I assumed that someone must have had an armful of dry cleaning, and dropped the jacket on the way to the cleaners.
I did an about-face – back to the cleaners, this time with the jacket in hand.
“Does this look familiar to you? It must have been part of a set. Did anyone drop off a matching skirt?”
“Oh yes. Someone was just here… but we couldn’t do same day service so they left.”
I asked the proprietor if she could just hold on to the jacket, hoping that the owner would return to retrieve it, but she didn’t want to get involved.
“Would you know the name of the person so I can contact them?”
That’s all the info I had. But determined to do hashavas aveidah, I took the jacket home, and got to work, hoping to locate its owner.
I dialed several Hirsch families in the neighborhood. Finally… Success! I found a grateful owner. I sensed a feeling of relief in her voice. She couldn’t figure out where she may have lost the jacket. It made her outfit. Without it, the skirt lost “the look”.
I lucked out. HaShem gave me an opportunity to do a mitzvah. He placed the lost object right before me. He even made it relatively painless for me to locate the owner.
Opportunities for mitzvos come our way every day; we just have to pick up upon them.
We can all use an extra mitzvah before Rosh HaShanah. Mitzvos where we can help a fellow Jew in any one of a myriad of ways. Let’s all try to see the world of mitzvos that are right before us.
The mitzvah of hashavas aveidah is mentioned twice in the Torah. In Parshas Mishpatim, we are instructed to return a lost ox or a wandering donkey to “oyivcha – your enemy”. (Shemos 23:4). And, in Parshas Ki Seitzei, the Torah commands us to return lost property to “ochicho – your brother”.
Why the change of terminology from oyivcha to ochicho – from enemy to brother? One of the Torah commentators explains that herein lies an important life lesson. Unfortunately, we all come across people whom we view as “the enemy”. People with whom we disagree, people we have difficulty getting along with, people whom we consider to be difficult. Even then, the Torah teaches us, we must make a concerted effort to help them, to return their lost possessions. In the process, with HaShem’s help, we become achim – brothers. Doing favors, showing kindness to one another, brings people closer together.
Acheinu kol beis Yisroel. We are all brothers. When we are there for each other, we truly all become one.
The parshah opens with the words “Ki seitzei la’milchamah al oyivecha, when you go out to war against your enemies.” Each of the parshiyos we customarily read in Chodesh Elul is there to give us a preparatory message as we approach Rosh HaShanah. “When you out to war….” Each of us has an inner enemy, the yetzer harah, that inner voice that tells us “”It’s hard. I can’t. It’s not for me. I can’t be bothered. It’s not my problem, not my worry. Let someone else take care of it. I don’t have the time, the energy, the ability.” It’s a war against that niggling voice we all hear from time to time, a voice that we have to fight.
HaShem gives us the opportunities. Like the jacket that was laying on the sidewalk, we just have to pick up on our messages.
The Or HaChaim gives us a beautiful insight into the mitzvah of hashavas aveidah. “Hosheiv teshiveim – you shall surely return them”. “Them”, says the Or HaChaim, can also be referring to our lost brothers and sisters. “V’im lo korov ochicha eilecha – When your brother is not near you”, meaning a fellow Jew who may be lost, distanced, or wandering without purpose or mission, we are commanded “v’asaftoh el toch beisecha — “you shall gather them into your house”, to bring them in and help them find HaShem.
My mother, the Rebbetzin would tell of a father who had twelve sons. Each one of the sons had “issues”, save one. Either they were ill, experienced life challenges, or just lost contact with the father. The one seemingly problem-free son would come often visit his father, telling him not to worry about his brothers. “I’m here. Have nachas from me.”
But the father had no peace, and no rest, as long as any one of his children was in pain. Little does the one son coming and saying “have nachas from me” comfort the father, who loves all of his children.
It’s Chodesh Elul. HaShem is our Father. It’s not enough to say to HaShem, “Look at me. I’m doing well. I’m keeping Torah and mitzvos”. HaShem cannot rest as long as even one child is wandering, is in pain, is distanced from his Father.
None of us is the “ideal” child. Each of us is lacking. Surely, we must begin by bringing ourselves “home” – closer to HaShem. But we must not ignore the many who are searching for spirituality and are unaware of the rich heritage of our people. It is our responsibility to open our hearts, to bring them “home” to HaShem, to Torah and to mitzvos.
Chaya Sora can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
This article was written L’zecher Nishmas / In Memory Of HaRav Meshulem ben HaRav Osher Anshil HaLevi, zt”l and Rebbetzin Esther bas HaRav Avraham HaLevi, zt”l