Divrei Torah on the weekly portions
Devarim: Ki Teitzei
Lost and Found Column
"You should not see your brother’s ox or sheep wandering astray and hide yourself from them; you should surely return them to your brother. If your brother is not near you or you do not know him, then gather it inside your house, and it shall remain with you until your brother inquires after it (AD DEROSH ACHICHA OTO), and you return it to him. So shall you do for his donkey, his garment, or any lost article of your brother that may become lost from him (ASHER TOVAD MIMENU) and you find it (UMETZATAH); you will not be able to hide yourself (LO TUCHAL LEHITALEIM)" (Devarim 22:1-3).
- Do you have to wait until ACHICHA asks you for his lost article or can you return it to him beforehand, and aren’t the words ACHICHA OTO superfluous?
- Isn’t the phrase “and you find it (UMETZATAH)” superfluous? After all, the verses are discussing returning a lost article, and you can’t exactly return it if you don’t find it!
- Why does the Torah state: LO TUCHAL LEHITALEIM meaning “you will not be able to hide yourself” as opposed to the more concise Lo Titaleim (= do not hide yourself)?
- Rashi turns around the P’shat to derive from AD DEROSH ACHICHA that the lost article should be returned once the finder has checked well that the claimant is genuine. Rav Shimshon Rafael Hirsch explains that the word ACHICHA teaches that you should keep the article until a claimant demands it from you and you are convinced it is ACHICHA, the same ACHICHA from the previous verse whose article was lost. Your brother proves his claim by OTO, i.e. his detailed description of the lost article.
- GemaraBava Metzia (chapter 2) discusses whether we say ‘Finders keepers, losers weepers’ or if you must return what you find. In general, if you find an article which has an identifiable sign or looks as though it has been deliberately deposited there (e.g. in an organised stack), then we assume the original owner would not have abandoned hope of retrieving the lost article and the article must be returned. An exception is the case of a Nahar (river), namely that if an article is found in a river, even with an identifiable sign, we assume the original owner would have abandoned hope of retrieving the lost article and therefore ‘finders keepers’. This is derived from our verse ASHER TOVAD MIMENU UMETZATAH, whereby the Gemara (Bava Metzia 27a) interprets UMETZATAH to mean that which is lost from him and is capable of being found by other people.
- The Alshich explains that LO TUCHAL LEHITALEIM means “You are physically unable to hide yourself”, your bodily make-up will not allow you to hide yourself from fulfilling this important deed. After all, this concerns ACHICHA, your brother, who shares part of your Jewish soul.
Enhancing our life & Staying alive
According to the Midrash, the purposes of the Mitzvot are to enhance our life and to stay alive. Sefer HaChinuch enumerates two Mitzvot here: a positive commandment LeHashiv Aveidah LeYisrael (= to return a Jew’s lost article) and a negative commandment Shelo LeHaalim Einav Mimenah (= not to hide one’s eyes from it). Above we have touched on some of the intricate details associated with these Mitzvot, e.g. you must ensure that ACHICHA is the real ACHICHA and not a fraudster and in which circumstances we assume the original owner would not have abandoned hope of retrieving the lost article. The positive commandment LeHashiv Aveidah LeYisrael is clearly intended to elevate our mundane lives to the level of Divine service. This Mitzvah enhances our life (viz. DevarimRabbah 6:3). By contrast, the negative commandment Shelo LeHaalim Einav Mimenah is, according to the Alshich, something you just have to do, part of your make-up, part of your life. This Mitzvah helps us to stay alive (viz. BeMidbar Rabbah 17:5).
One final thought, since Ki Teitzei always falls in the month of Elul: Through our observance of the Mitzvah of LO TUCHAL LEHITALEIM, of not hiding ourselves if we see a lost article, and indeed observing all the Mitzvot, may we merit that AL TASTER PANECHA MIMENI, God should not hide himself from us (viz. Psalm 27, LeDavid Hashem Ori, which we recite twice daily in Elul) and that our Teshuvah (returning to God) will be accepted.