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You Will Not Be Able To Ignore - כי תצא

Thursday, 8 September, 2022 - 10:43 pm

You Will Not Be Able To Ignore

Every morally just legal system requires that a person not cause damage to his fellow. Yet the Torah goes much further in its moral calling. A person must invest time and effort to prevent his fellow from suffering a loss. This principle is demonstrated in the commandment to return a lost object:  

1. You shall not see your brother's ox or sheep straying, and ignore them. [Rather,] you shall return them to your brother.

2. But if your brother is not near you, or if you do not know him, you shall bring it into your house, and it shall be with you until your brother seeks it out, whereupon you shall return it to him.

3. So shall you do with his donkey, and so shall you do with his garment, and so shall you do with any lost article of your brother which he has lost and you have found. You shall not ignore [it]. (Deuteronomy 22)

But are there any limits to this obligation? Does one have to return a lost object even at great monetary expense to himself or at the expense of one's dignity? The Talmudic sages isolate the words of the first verse of the passage, "and ignore them", and teach that there are scenarios when one may ignore a lost object: 

The Sages taught in a baraita: It is stated with regard to the return of a lost item: “You shall not see your brother’s ox or his sheep wandering and ignore them; you shall return them to your brother” (Deuteronomy 22:1). The tanna explains that the phrase “and ignore them” means that there are occasions in which you may ignore lost items and there are occasions in which you may not ignore them.

How so; under what circumstances may one disregard a lost item? One may do so in a case where he was a priest and the lost item is in the graveyard (Leviticus 21:1–4), or where he was an elderly person and it is not in keeping with his dignity to tend to the item, or where the value of his labor was greater than the value of the lost item of the other person, i.e., if the finder was to return the item, reimbursing him for his lost wages would cost more than the value of the item; therefore, it is stated: “And ignore them.” (Baba Metziah 30a)

Rabbi Moshe Alshich, the great 16th-century mystic, explains a deeper dimension of these passages. When seeing a lost object and realizing the cost of time and effort it would take to return it, a person's first instinct is to ignore it. Therefore, in the first verse, the Torah emphasizes "you shall not see… and ignore them" because a person's natural inclination is to be self-oriented and therefore "ignore" another's potential financial loss. Yet, after engaging in performing the commandment - as described in the second verse ("your brother is not near you, or if you do not know him, you shall bring it into your house, and it shall be with you until your brother seeks it out, whereupon you shall return it to him") the person's nature is transformed. He becomes empathetic and sensitive to the other person to the extent that he can no longer ignore his fellow. This is expressed in the final verse of the passage, which, while commonly translated as "You shall not ignore", actually means "you will not be able to ignore”.

The portion of Ki Teitzei includes 74 of the Torah's 613 commandments, which cover virtually every area of life. Every Mitzvah further refines our character. From the natural inclination to be self-centered and ignore the people around us, we become people who "are not able to ignore".  

 

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