Lost Property and Relationships

Parashat Ki Tetze

What can lost property teach us about relationships?

Parashat Ki Tetze contains seventy-two different mitzvot, the largest number in any Torah portion. From the outset, it seems to be just a condensed list of random instructions. However, the format of this portion encourages us to take a wider view so as not to miss the forest for the trees. After looking through the entirety of the mitzvot listed in the parasha, we find a common thread – the relationship between our physical possessions and our human relationships.

In this portion, the Torah clarifies our obligation to look out for the interests of others and to return to others what they have lost:

“You are not to watch your brother’s ox or sheep go astray and behave as if you hadn’t seen it; you must bring them back to your brother. If your brother is not close by, or you don’t know who the owner is, you are to bring it home to your house; and it will remain with you until your brother asks for it. Then you are to give it back to him. You are to do the same with his donkey, his coat or anything else of your brother’s that he loses. If you find something he lost, you must not ignore it.” (Deuteronomy 22:1-3)

According to Nehama Leibowitz, this commandment is one of commission, not omission:

“The mitzvah of returning lost property … involves, not only the passive taking charge of the article until the owner claims it, but also an active concern with safeguarding a neighbor’s possessions (Studies in Devarim, p. 214).”

An “active concern” includes doing everything possible to locate the owner of the lost property. The finder must not only care for the property, but may not profit from it. And if it was invested, the finder must also return all the earnings. The Ramban (Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman) makes it clear that the mitzva of returning lost property supersedes any inconvenience to the finder.

So why is this so important? What does lost property have to do with relationships? Rabbi Harvey J. Fields explains that:

“Property is an extension of each individual. It is like the limb of one’s body. Loving one’s neighbor means taking care of all that is important to them as you would want them to safeguard all that is important to you. Returning lost property is a demonstration of love and concern for one’s neighbors.”

Bachya ben Joseph ibn Pakuda agrees, explaining that the act of restoring lost property fulfills the Torah’s instruction to “love your neighbor as yourself (Lev. 19:18).”

Yeshua further clarified the importance of our relationships, and that nothing is greater than our relationship with G-d, and with each other. May we, with G-d’s help, demonstrate love and concern for those around us, seeing within our fellow human beings a reflection of the Divine Image.

“L’Shanah Tovah Tikateivu – May you be inscribed for a sweet New Year!”

About Rabbi Joshua

I'm a Rabbi, writer, thinker, mountain biker, father and husband ... not necessarily in that order. According to my wife, however, I'm just a big nerd. I have degrees in dead languages and ancient stuff. I have studied in various Jewish institutions, including an Orthodox yeshiva in Europe. I get in trouble for making friends with perfect strangers, and for standing on chairs to sing during Shabbos dinner. In addition to being the Senior Rabbi of Beth Emunah Messianic Synagogue in Agoura Hills, CA, I write regularly for several publications and speak widely in congregations and conferences. My wife is a Southern-fried Jewish Beltway bandit and a smokin' hot human rights attorney... and please don’t take offense if I dump Tabasco sauce on your cooking.
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