This week's parsha is replete with a potpourri of commandments, all
encompassing both negative and positive directives that affect our dealings
with fellow humans as well as our Creator.
Among the directives is the mitzvah of hashavas aveidah, returning the lost
items of your fellow Jew.
"You shall not see the ox of your brother or his sheep or goat cast off,
and hide yourself from them; you shall surely return them to your brother.
If your brother is not near you and you do not know him, then gather it
inside your house, and it shall remain with you until your brother inquires
after it, and you return it to him. So shall you do for his donkey, so
shall you do for his garment, and so shall you do for any lost article of
your brother that may become lost from him and you find it; you will not be
able to hide yourself" (Deuteronomy 22:1-3).
The Talmud spends a great amount of time and effort detailing this mitzvah
in the second chapter of Tractate Bava Metziah. But the last few words of
the commandment needs clarification.
The Torah tells us to return lost items and not to shirk our
responsibility. But it does not tell us you are not allowed to hide,
rather it tells us, "lo suuchal, you will not be able to hide."
Why not? Who is stopping you? Surely Hashem does not intervene in our
free choice to shun our responsibilities?
The Chofetz Chaim travelled across Poland to distribute his
works. Throughout his travels, he came across a variety of characters and
experienced many incidents that he retold in his many lectures on Lashon
Harah, and fear of Heaven.
He recounted that once he was going in a wagon, when the driver saw an
orchard with delicious fruit trees. The driver turned to his passenger and
schemed. Listen, my friend. I am making a short detour. I am going into
the field to help myself to some of that fruit. If anybody is watching me,
let me know immediately. I don't want to get in trouble here!"
The man parked the wagon on the side of the road and stealthily moved
toward the orchard with a small sack in his hand. He was about to fill it
with the fine, pilfered fruit when the Chofetz Chaim shouted from the
wagon, "Someone is watching!"
The man quickly ran back to the carriage and meandered around as if he were
just taking a rest.
A few moments later, he snuck back into the orchard, and slowly made his
way toward the fruit-laden trees. Once again, as he was about to snatch
the fruit off the tree, he heard the old man shout! They're watching!
This time the man dropped his sack and looked all around. He saw no
one. Hands on his hips, he approached the wagon.
"I don't see anyone! Who's watching?" he demanded.
The Chofetz Chaim, shrugged, smiled, and rolled his eyes heavenward as he
pointed his finger upwards.
"He is!" he replied.
As the saying goes, "you can run, but you can't hide." The Torah is
telling you more than dos or don'ts. It is telling you what you can do,
and what is virtually impossible for you to do. When you want to look
away, and make it appear as if you do not see, the Torah, in addition to a
prohibition, reminds him of the simple fact. Not only are you prohibited
from making it appear as if you did not see, but in fact, "you cannot hide!
You cannot look away." We sometimes forget that Hashem is everywhere and
his vision is ever peripheral. We think He is focused on one place and is
not interested in the tiny details of a man and a lost object.
Such thinking is as silly as the story of the kids at a Bar-Mitzvah, when
the rabbi stacked a bunch of apples on one end of a table with a sign
saying, "Take only one apple please G-d is watching." On the other end of
the table was a pile of cookies where a friend of the bar-mitzvah boy had
placed a sign on saying, "Take all the cookies you want - God is watching
When it comes to involving ourselves in communal responsibilities whether
it is returning lost souls or lost items, we may try to appear as if we do
not know what is happening around us. We may act lost ourselves. But we
are hiding from no one. Because if we play the fool, "the only thing we
have to fool is fool ourselves."
Dedicated to Baila bat Rachel, and Aharon ben Leah for a complete recovery-
refuah shelaymah - with Hashem's Help - by Devorah.