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Parashat Ki Teitzei - 5773

My friends,

This Shabbat we read the portion of Ki Teitzei, the sixth portion in the Book of Deuteronomy, Devarim. It begins with instructions on the proper behavior towards captives in a war, and continues with various Mitzvot, totalling 74 commandments of do's and don'ts.

In chapter 22, verse 1, there is the Mitzvah of returning a lost item to its rightful owner:

"If you see your fellow's ox or sheep gone astray, do not ignore it, you must take it back to your fellow."

In verse 3 it continues:

"You shall do the same with his donkey, you shall do the same with his garment, and so too you shall do with anything that your fellow loses and you find, you must not remain indifferent."

This Mitzvah of returning a lost item is so important that the Talmud devotes many chapters in Baba Metzia describing what items must be returned, and the finder's responsibility in keeping the item in good shape until the rightful owner is found. If that is the case with lost materials, how much more so it is when the loss is a spiritual teaching, a culture, a heritage. There are many of us who, for whatever reason, have lost their heritage. They feel like strangers when it comes to the synagogue and Jewish practices. It is our obligation to do all we can to return this lost item to our people.

The other day I was studying with a young boy in our Shul who is getting ready for his Bar Mitzvah. I was touched by what his father had to say. He told his son, "When I was your age, I knew nothing about Judaism, the synagogue, the Jewish people or Israel. Throughout my first 25 years, I had never even seen a Hebrew book or been to a synagogue. When I first came to Sharei Chesed, it was the first time in my life I came in contact with a prayer book, learning about G-d and Abraham and Jewish traditions. It's like I finally found out who I am, what is a Jew."

Every time you have an opportunity to teach your child a Jewish practice, or if you yourself learn something new, consider it as finding something that you had lost. There is a saying in Yiddish: "When is a Jew happy? When he or she finds something they had lost."

The Torah commands us to return a lost item to its rightful owner. What a great Mitzvah, when we bring back a person to his/her people and heritage.

Shabbat Shalom,