Parshas Ki Seitzei
Lost and Found
“You will surely return them to your brother… you cannot ignore [the lost article]” (Devarim 22:1,3).
Parshas Ki Seitzei includes seventy-four mitzvos, touching on many aspects of our lives and relationships with others. One of these mitzvos is hashavas aveidah, the Torah’s commandment to return a lost object to its owner. The Torah goes into some detail concerning the finder’s obligation, with one important point repeated twice in the pessukim: we should not ignore the lost article, acting as if we haven’t seen it (Devarim 22:1-3).
Rabbeinu Bechayye explains more about this mitzvah. The double wording “hashev tishiveim (“you shall surely return them”) teaches us that no matter how many times an animal or any other article is lost, we are obligated to return it to the owner again and again, “even one hundred times” (Baba Metzia 31a). Hashavas aveidah teaches us kindness and compassion for others; we are all the children of one father, and should be concerned for one another’s wellbeing – property and finances included. The Torah first lists livestock, then clothing, and then “all of your brother’s lost articles,” teaching us that even if the item is not all that costly, we should still take the trouble to pick it up and return it; “you cannot ignore [it].”
Rabbeinu Bechayye writes that the Torah’s words, “you cannot ignore” are not limited to the mitzvah of hashavas avediah alone. This obligation extends to every area where we can be of benefit to someone else or spare him harm or loss, in keeping with the Torah’s commandment, “And you will love your fellowman like yourself” (Vayikra 19:18). Chazal do mention exceptions, for example, an elderly person for whom retrieving and handling the lost article would be undignified (Baba Metzia 30a). Otherwise, if we are able to help, it is wrong to look away.
Rabbi Yehonasan Gefen describes a phenomenon known as “Ostrich Syndrome.” Until recently, it was believed that ostriches bury their heads in the sand as an act of supposed self-defense. As the theory went, these enormous birds imagine that this makes them invisible to predators – what they cannot see, cannot see them. While this is now viewed as a myth, the name “Ostrich Syndrome” has become synonymous with a common human tendency, also known as “avoidance.” Many times, we may hope that if we ignore a problem or pretend that it has nothing to do with us, it will disappear.
“Ostrich Syndrome” conflicts with the Torah’s outlook and expectations. In the case of hashavas aveidah, it is true that the easy way out is far more comfortable – we can convince ourselves that we never saw the lost object, and walk away. With this mitzvah, in particular the words, “you cannot ignore,” the Torah instructs us to pull our heads out of the sand and view our fellow man’s needs as our responsibility (Rabbi Yehonasan Gefen, “Returning Lost Objects, Part 1”).
Question for Discussion:
When we find a lost item, we can either stick our heads safely in the sand, or make the effort to return it to its owner. How did you or someone you know react when faced with a lost item?Click Here To Respond
My parents, Dr. and Mrs. Manny Wasserman of Los Angeles, recalled the story of a lost item returned to them while visiting their children in yeshivah in Israel:
We made a side trip to Eilat, taking the short El Al flight down to the tip of the country. We had checked into our hotel room when we realized that our camera, a very expensive Nikon, was missing, along with many irreplaceable photos. There was no identification on the camera, making it easy and tempting for anyone who found this valuable item to keep it. Not very optimistically, we called the lost and found at El Al, provided the relevant information, and settled down to wait on hold. When the El Al employee finally got back on the phone, she told us that she had located the pilot. He found our camera on the plane, just where we had left it.
She assured us that when the pilot returned to Eilat on the next day’s flight, he would bring the camera along. Still anxious, we went to the terminal the next day and explained that we were there to pick up our camera. The El Al attendant had no idea of what we were talking about. Fortunately for us, she started making phone calls, and a few minutes later the pilot arrived, with a smile on his face and our Nikon in hand!
What hashgachah pratis – only in Israel, and only on El Al