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“’You shall love your fellow Jew as yourself’ (Vayikra 19:18). Said Rabbi Akiva: This is a great principle in the Torah” (Rashi based on a Sifra in Kedoshim 3:12).
The Sifsei Chachamim on this Rashi explains that within this mitzvah is the entire Torah, as Hillel said: “What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow, this is the whole entire Torah and the rest is it’s explanation.” What do Rebbe Akiva and Hillel mean by their statements? Why is this pasuk so important that it is considered the central pasuk of the Torah and everything else is just a detailed explanation of this pasuk? (Click here for Hebrew text.)
The Torah in this week’s portion of Ki Seitzei states in the first 3 pesukim of perek 22, “You may not observe your brother’s ox or his sheep lost and conceal yourself from them; you must surely return them to your brother. But if your brother is not near you or you do not know him, gather it into your house and let it stay with you until your brother seeks it, when you must return it to him. And so are you to do for his donkey, and so are you to do for his garment, and so are you to do for any lost object of your brother’s that is lost from him which you find, you may not conceal yourself.”
Rabbeinu Bachye explains that the Torah commands us to be vigilant with returning lost objects to their rightful owners. The Torah used a double language of השב תשיבם, that he should surely return the object, which Chazal say means even if it gets lost 100 times one must return it. These are the ways of kindness and mercy, to train our minds that we are one nation deserving of us having one father, each one desiring the good for another, and having pity on each other’s property. So, whether the lost object is an animal or an inanimate object, one is obligated to return it to its owner. That is what the pasuk mean when it says, “and so you shall do to his donkey” which is an animal but a non-kosher animal. Then it says, “And so you shall do with his garment,” even though it’s not as important as an animal. “And so, you shall do to any lost object of your friend” which is any other vessel even though it’s not as important as clothes (since it’s not used to cover yourself); still you can’t ignore it and must return it to him. And when it says, “You may not conceal yourself,” don’t understand it to just be referring to returning lost objects, but rather to other specific needs and all assistance one can give to his fellow. Such as to remove and push away any damage that can befall him, one is obligated in all this as the pasuk says, “And you should love your neighbor as yourself”. Chazal also learns from the words “And if you hide yourself from them” as well as the fact that it also writes “You shall not hide yourself from them.” How [does one resolve the contradiction]? An elderly person, where it is not respectful for him to be obligated in returning the object, the Torah says he may conceal himself, but other people may not conceal themselves. (Click here for Hebrew text.)
Don’t most people like to and want to help one another? Isn’t it a natural feeling for people to want to help others and be nice to them? It is simply the right thing to do! What lesson is the Torah trying to send to us by saying we should return lost objects, and the progression of what kind of objects should be returned, which is anyways anything returnable? Why also does Rabbeinu Bachye connect this pasuk with any other help you can offer someone and emphasize that we should feel like one big happy family, responsible for each other? Indeed, why did he bring in the pasuk of “Love your neighbor as yourself?”
It is true that everyone would agree we should help each other; kindness is a basic tenant in life. However, Rabbeinu Bachye is teaching us that the Torah expects us to do it on a consistent basis. One shouldn’t feel like ‘I’ll do it when I am in the mood’ or make up other excuses for not helping others or returning what others have lost if they found it.
Rabbeinu Bachye is showing us the means of how to instill into our minds the feeling that we should always feel the need to help others and assist them in their needs, no matter what the circumstance. This is, by instilling in our minds the attitude that we are all children of one Father, Hashem. Just as siblings feel a personal obligation to take care of each other, we should also feel the same way about every Jew. There should be no excuse of what kind of object should be returned. One shouldn’t say to himself, ‘he won’t be missing this,’ or ‘it’s not as important as other things are,’ or ‘they are always replaceable.’ Rather, one should pick it up and find the owner anyways. You would want the same thing done for you if you were in the owner’s shoes.
Of course, this applies to any issue a person has, any dilemma your fellow Jew gets into, one should always feel the need to help, and to help you feel that need, you should put yourself in their shoes. How would you feel? However, everything is within reason, and an elderly person isn’t expected to do as much as a younger person; therefore the Torah exempts the elderly from the mitzvah of returning lost objects.
Now we can understand why “Love your neighbor as yourself” is so important, and everything else is just detailed explanation. The reason is because this pasuk is what will propel a person to serve Hashem properly, For example, what will help a person do a mitzvah between a man and his fellow like returning a lost object, lending money, hosting guests, visiting the sick, or any other kindness, is to think about themselves being in need of help; wouldn’t you want someone to help you, and to do it properly? But also regarding mitzvos between man and G-D, wouldn’t you want your child to listen to what you say, or any one for that matter, if you asked them to do something for you? If so, then you should do the same for Hashem, your Father and King, to do His will by fulfilling His Torah and mitzvos.
Creating motivations, like the pasuk “Love your neighbor as yourself,” to properly serve Hashem and do his will is very important for success in having a fulfilling life and everything else is just details of what exactly to do.