Shabbat Evening Service
From the desk of Rabbi David Lyon
When I was a child I used to say, “Finders keepers, losers weepers.” You probably did, too. It was a juvenile phrase. We said it when we found another child’s ball or a few coins and claimed them as our own. Kids still say it, but now they find lost iPods and iPhones. They recite the old adage like it’s a moral password that allows them to snatch up lost items and keep them forever. It’s a terrible saying and it’s contrary to Jewish ethics about lost property.
In this week’s Torah portion, Ki Teitzei, we read the first rule about lost property in Deuteronomy 22:1-3, “If you see your fellow’s ox or sheep gone astray, do not ignore it; you must take it back to your fellow…You shall do the same with his garment, and so too shall you do with anything that your fellow loses and you find.” Just because the verse doesn’t mention iPhones doesn’t mean you can keep them.
The verse is clear; when we find something that doesn’t belong to us we must return it to its owner. Furthermore, if we can’t find its rightful owner then we must keep the lost item until the owner turns up. And, if he doesn’t turn up, we still have an obligation to store it and save it until he does, whenever that might be.
Finally, at the end of verse 3, we learn, “You must not remain indifferent.” In Hebrew we read “Lo tuchal l’hit’aleim”. Given that Hebrew roots often share related meanings, the verse has also come to be translated as “You must not hide yourself.” When we hide ourselves from the truth, we become indifferent. It begins with small items. A small ball or some coins, for example; when we stuff them into our pockets we begin to believe that we change the truth about the matter. The child says, “I didn’t see any ball. I don’t know anything about coins.” A good parent or authority figure sets the child straight with a lesson about moral behavior. Eventually, the child learns that the old adage about “finders-keepers” is a bad rule. No matter our lies or deceptions, we can try to hide ourselves; but, the truth always exists no matter our efforts to hide it.
This verse should be of great interest to us at this time of year. Just before the High Holidays, we begin to take an accounting of our personal journeys. We all feel lost sometimes. We all wander and wonder. Reality can hurt. It’s not always easy to face it and what it requires of us. But, we aren’t hiding just from reality. We’re also hiding from the larger purpose we can find on our life’s journey. If we knew where we were going, then we would do exactly what we needed to reach milestones along the way. But, it isn’t that easy and our future isn’t revealed to us. Faith in a larger purpose to our life, even if it’s hidden from us, can motivate us; it can be a source of joy when we do reach milestones along the way. No life is going to be permanently happy; but, it can be permanently meaningful. That might not be enough for everyone. Some people need constant happiness and joy. I love happiness and joy, too, but if I can’t maintain it, I’m honestly very content with meaning whether it’s found in joy or sorrow.
Meaning allows me to face reality without hiding from it. I accept my blessings but also my lumps. I’m not perfect. I don’t have a perfect life. But, the meaning I seek and always seem to find is mine every time. Meaning makes it easier to show up; I don’t have to hide anymore. I don’t have to feel indifferent. If I accept my reality, then I’ll always feel something. Of course, I hope it will be mostly joy, but even when it isn’t, I’ll look for meaning in those moments. I hope that you do, too.