What responsibility do we have to lost souls? The answer is given to us in this week’s Torah portion, where we read about one of the kindest acts a person can do: the mitzvah of hashovat aveidah, returning a lost object to its rightful owner. While this is certainly a noble act, is there any deeper significance to this obligation?
Moreover, why does the Torah first cite four examples of lost items – three animals and a garment – when the mitzvah is, as the verse concludes, “so shall you do with every lost thing of your brother”?!
In answering this we discover fascinating facets of our personalities: Which animal do you most resemble? Are you most like the ox? Or a donkey? Or a sheep? All of the above?
The truth is that most of us do have some traits in common with all these animals. And right in this week’s Torah reading – in the discussion about returning “lost objects” – we learn how this is so.
Like the ox, a volatile beast, some of us tend to lash out when anything disturbs the tranquility of our mastication or at anything that challenges our stated opinions. Like the donkey, which digs in its heels and coldly disregards all commands, some of us are just as stubborn and just as indifferent to holiness and truth. Like the sheep, which is meek and docile, some of us know the truth and care about the truth, but are too timid to act upon it.
This sermon examines the traits of each of the “lost objects” enumerated in this Torah reading, explains why the Talmud considers the lost sheep the worst of the lot. It then goes on to show how the negative traits of each can be turned around not just to positive ends, but to hasten the coming of the Final Redemption.