Parashat Ki Teitzei

Friday, August 24, 2018 /13 Elul, 5778
Parashat Ki Teitzei Deuteronomy 21:10-25:19

Dear Friends,

“Finders keepers, losers weepers.”

Do you remember that aphorism from first grade? I do – and I always found it a little problematic, even when I was in first grade. It seemed patently unfair, though we all learned that such was the way of the big, cruel world, which is not always so fair.

Except, in Torah…?

This week we read the following verse in our Parsha, “If you see your fellow Israelite’s ox or sheep gone astray, do not ignore it; you must take it back to your peer.” (Deut. 22:1) Now, without getting lost in the minutiae – what if you don’t know whose sheep it is, or what if it is a non-Israelite’s animal, or what if it is sickly, or any other condition, let’s take note of the basic message: return what is lost to the owner. It is not your property, simply because you found it. It does belong to someone else. Period.

How difficult is it to understand that we must respect each other’s property? Wouldn’t we wish our own property to be respected, in turn? Of course.

And, the rabbis of the Talmud found this message so compelling, that they extrapolated other teachings from it. Here are a couple:

  • The imperative of a physician to engage in medical arts is derived from this text. The doctor is to “return” the patient’s lost health to the sick or injured person. Torah commands this through our verse.
  • The obligation for civility in social discourse and government is derived from this text. We are to offer replies with respect; thus, returning someone’s dignity in conversation by being civil fulfills this command.
  • And, in keeping with this tradition, I would add that helping Temple Beth El to address its changes and transitions during this interim period also is a response to this commandment.   It is not unfair to see that TBE experienced losses while undergoing our clergy and staff changes this year, and our collective task is to help “return” TBE’s lost property.   That we are entering the High Holy Days, with their message of returning and renewal, only adds to this message.

Perhaps, per our verse, we are lost sheep or oxen – let’s return home!

Shabbat Shalom and Shanah Tovah!
Rabbi Doug Kohn