Lost and Found

Dear Friends,


There is a precious heritage which belongs to all the members of our people, as it is written: 


“The Torah that Moshe commanded us is the heritage of the Community of Jacob.” (Deuteronomy 33:4)


According to our tradition, the above verse is the very first verse which is taught to a Jewish child when he or she first learns how to speak. At a very early age, all Jewish children are made aware that the Torah "belongs" to each of them and all of them. In this way, they will be inspired to "claim" their heritage.


But what about those Jewish children and adults who are unaware of their heritage? Do we have a responsibility to help them rediscover their lost spiritual treasure? An answer can be found in the following “mitzvah” – Divine mandate – to return someone's lost object:


“You shall not see your brother’s ox or his sheep go astray and hide yourself from them; you must surely return them to your brother. But if your brother is not near you, or if you do not know him, then you shall take it into your house, and it shall stay with you until your brother inquires after it, and you shall then restore it to him. You shall do this with his donkey. You shall do this with his garment, and you shall do so with any of your brother’s lost articles that he loses and you find; you cannot hide yourself.” (Deuteronomy 22:1-3)


Regarding this mitzvah, the Chofetz Chaim, a leading sage and halachic authority, explains that the mitzvah also applies to helping individuals regain their lost spiritual possessions. He points out that if the Torah has such concern for lost material possessions, then surely the Torah has concern for lost spiritual possessions. For example, he cites this relevant explanation of the sages on the above words, “you must surely return them to your brother” (Deuteronomy 22:1). The sages say that this emphatic statement means that even if the animals got lost a hundred times, you must surely return them. The Chofetz Chaim derives from this rabbinic teaching, the following message:


If we have to strive even a hundred times to return lost material possessions, then we need to strive even a hundred times to bring souls that have gone astray back to the path of Hashem. The Chofetz Chaim adds:


“And in truth, in our era, even the complete sinners are for the most part not sinning out of spite, Heaven forbid; rather, they have gone astray from the path through the influence of certain willful sinners that led them away from the path. They are certainly like a lost lamb that does not know how to return to the house of its owner. There is therefore a great mitzvah to have compassion on them and to show them the right path, as it is written (Exodus 18:20): ‘And you shall make known to them the path in which they are to go and the deeds they are to do.’ ”


(The above teaching is cited in the work, “The Chofetz Chaim on the Torah” – Parshas Mishpatim.)


As the Chofetz Chaim taught us, when we help a brother or sister to reclaim their heritage, we are also fulfilling the mitzvah to return a lost object to its rightful owner.


The theme of spiritual outreach is very relevant to our discussion on the “soul” of Zion – the inner spirit that gives Zion its purpose and meaning. In the early letters of this series, we cited the following teaching of the Chofetz Chaim:


He explains that the People of Israel are a holistic unity of body and soul, and he writes:


The soul of Israel is the holy Torah, and the body of Israel is the Land of Israel. (Chofetz Chaim on the Torah, Parshas Bo)


Just as the soul needs the body in order to fulfill its mission in this world, so too, the Torah needs the Land of Israel in order to fulfill its mission in this world. This is why the Chofetz Chaim reminds us that many mitzvos of the Torah can only be fulfilled in the Land (ibid).


“But the Land of Israel without the Torah,” stresses the Chofetz Chaim, “is a body without a soul” (ibid). We therefore need the harmonious interaction of the soul and the body – the Torah and the Land of Israel. 


The Chofetz Chaim finds an allusion to this idea in the following statement where Hashem proclaims that He is the One, “Who firmed the land and its produce, Who gave a soul to the people upon it” (Isaiah 42:5)


Torah – the Divine Teaching – is the “soul” of Zion; thus, when we bring people closer to the Torah, we are also helping them to develop a deeper connection to Zion.


Be Well, and Shalom,

Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen  (See below)


Related Teachings:


The term “Zion” can have various meanings, depending on the context of the verse, and the following references can serve as examples:


1. Although the term “Zion” refers to Jerusalem’s Mount Zion, south of the Temple Mount, it can also refer to the Temple Mount, as when the Temple was destroyed, the Prophet Jeremiah lamented, “For this our heart was faint...for Mount Zion which lies desolate” (Lamentations 5:17,18).


2. “Zion” can refer to Jerusalem, as it is written: “And they shall call you the city of Hashem, Zion of the Holy One of Israel” (Isaiah 60:14).


3. “Zion” is a term for the Land of Israel, as it is written: “For Hashem will comfort Zion, He will comfort all her ruins; He will make her wilderness like Eden, and her wasteland like a garden of Hashem; joy and gladness will be found there, thanksgiving and the sound of music” (Isaiah 51:3).


4. “Zion” also refers to the People of Israel, as in the following Divine promise: “And to say unto Zion, ‘You are My people!’ ” (Isaiah 51:16)


The above definitions of Zion lead to the following insight: When we discover the soul of Zion, we discover the sacred raison d’etre of the Temple, Jerusalem, the Land of Israel, and the People of Israel.

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