When My Soul Was In The Lost & Found (thanks to )

Posted on September 14, 2008


Torah Commentary by AJU spiritual adviser Reb Mimi Feigelson

Shabbat Parashat Ki Tetzei – 13 Elul 5768 – When My Soul Was In the ‘Lost and Found’
September 13 – 13 Elul 5768
By: Reb Mimi Feigelson, Mashpiah Ruchanit

Torah Reading: Deuteronomy 21:10 – 25:19
Haftarah Reading: Isaiah 54:10

There are two times of the year that we are called upon to do serious house cleaning. The first is the month of Nissan, leading up to Pessach, when we clean our homes so that we arrive at Pessach with a chametz free home. The second is the month of Elul, the month that we are residing in, when we are asked to clean our hearts and souls.

In many ways the prospect is quite similar – if you clean your home regularly, then despite the intensity of Pessach cleaning it is a manageable endeavor. Different areas will demand different approaches dependent on how often we encountered them during the year. Some will need to be wiped off and put back on the shelf. Some will need rigorous scrubbing.

The same is true for the heart and soul cleansing of this month. If we tend to our emotional and spiritual needs and responsibilities throughout the year; if we cultivate our spiritual lives and relationships with others on an ongoing basis, then the internal cleansing of this month is not impossible. It, also, is not debilitating and depleting, leaving us with little strength to celebrate the grander of Rosh Hashana and the awe of Yom Kippur.

It is with lens that the Chassidic Masters read in detail the laws of returning a lost object to the hands of its owner as they appear in this weeks Torah portion:

“You shall not see your brother’s ox or his sheep go astray, and hide yourself from them: you shall surely bring them back to your brother. And if your brother is not near to you, or if you do not know him, then you shall bring it to your house, and it shall be with you until your brother shall seek after it, and you shall restore it to him again. In like manner you shall do with his ass, and so shall you do with his garment, and with every lost thing of your brother’s which he has lost, and you have found, you shall do likewise, you may not hide yourself” (D’varim / Deuteronomy 22: 1-3).

For Rebbe Nachman of Breslov (1772-1810) the meaning of “every lost thing of your brother’s which he has lost” pertains directly to the spiritual realm. We have all had, God willing, peak moments in our life. For some, moments of joy, exaltation and deep gratitude for our lives and those we share it with. For others, perhaps, a sense of God’s presence, a profound moment of prayer or a feeling of internal quiet and peace of mind. These are spiritual possessions that we have acquired if only for a brief moment. But they are as coined, ‘peak moments’ – experiences that as much as we aspire to hold on to forever, seem to escape us as soon as we turn our backs, moving on to the next engagement. Similar to turning our back on our suitcase at the airport for a split second only to find that it has disappeared…

In the laws of returning lost objects as they unfold beginning with the Mishna in Baba Metzia and throughout the Rambam (Maimonides) and the Shulchan Aruch (the Code of Law) we are taught the qualifications of the obligations of the finder. When finding a lost object – how do we tend to it, for how long, what about monetary loss that comes with this obligation, are three examples of the ample details these laws render.

One of the most primary laws that Rebbe Nachman holds on to is the notion of ‘ye’ush’ (despair). As long as the owner has not despaired from finding it, the finder has an obligation to hold on to it. You may ask, how do we know when that is; does it change when dealing with different kinds of objects; or perhaps the location where it was found? These are all questions that the Halacha has addressed and set guidelines to. At this point what we need to hold on to is the principal that as long as the original owner has not despaired from finding their lost object, the object has a legal owner that can demand it to be returned to them. If they were to despair from finding it, it would be rendered ‘hefker’ (ownerless) and belong to the finder.

Rebbe Nachman challenges us with the question regarding lost ‘spiritual objects’. When we lose our love for a person that we once indeed loved deeply; when remembering how there was a time where our belief in God, humanity, or a sustaining philosophy that held us are now lost from us; when words of the siddur (prayer book) that once felt like ‘home’ have lost their meaning and significance – in these moments, who is the finder of such losses in our life?

For Rebbe Nachman the answer is quite obvious – the Ribbono Shel Olam (the Master of the World) – He is the finder of such losses. And He will hold on to it for us until we are ready to reclaim it and bring it back into our direct possession. We may need time to work through a relationship or a theological challenge. That is not a problem in Rebbe Nachman’s interpretation. God’s time is infinite, and as long as we hold on to the desire to return to the plain that we stood on, then it is only lost to us, but not to its own existence. And our Creator will hold on to it, in faith, trust and love till we come to claim it.

I would like to suggest taking Rebbe Nachman’s teaching one step further and bring it one step closer. Can we be this ‘spiritual finder’ for each other? Can we hold on to each others greatness and promise, in those moments when one of us has lost their vision? Can we help each other reclaim that which was dear to our heart and soul? While journeying through this month of Elul and cleaning out the rooms of our heart and soul, can we designate one corner as a ‘lost and found’ for our dear ones to come and claim that which they have lost, and we in love and faith have been holding on to for them?

May this Shabbat and the weeks to come unite us back to our lost pieces.

Shabbat shalom and shana tova.

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