On Returning the Lost
When you encounter your enemy's ox or ass wandering you must take it back to him.
If you see your fellow's ox or sheep gone astray, do not ignore it; you must take it back to your fellow. If your fellow does not live near you or you do not know who he is, you shall bring it home and it shall remain with you until your fellow claims it, then you shall give it back to him. You shall do the same with his ass; you shall do the same with his garment; and so too shall you do with anything that your fellow loses and you find; you must not remain indifferent.
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What does the verse in Deuteronomy add to the verse in Exodus? How do the verses differ? How would you reconcile the verse in Exodus which talks about the "enemy's ox" with the verse in Deuteronomy which refers to the "sheep of your fellow (and not your enemy)? Is it fair for the Torah require that we trouble ourselves to return lost objects?
The Talmud takes this Biblical injunction very seriously, elucidating how responsible we are regarding each item's care. Animals have to be fed and all efforts must be made to return these lost objects.
Most commentators reconcile the discrepancy between fellow and enemy as not a discrepancy at all, but an injunction that the property of your enemy be treated the same as the property of your friend. In fact, if one has to choose between returning the lost object of a friend or an enemy, the enemy comes first and the friend comes second.
This is viewed as an opportunity to not only return a lost object to its rightful owner, but to restore affection between two people who have become embittered against each other. From this hopeful reconciliation, Rabbenu Bechaya, a medieval Kabbalistic commentator says that we will ultimately be restored to our rightful owner, the Holy One. During this month of Elul, we, too, look to return to the self of whom we are most proud as we
resolve to start this year anew.
Prepared by Rabbi Avi Weinstein, director, Joseph Meyerhoff Center for Jewish Learning.
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