Friday, August 31, 2012

Finders Keeper Losers Weepers (Jerry Garcia & Merle Saunders)

I suppose it is tough being he youngest and only boy in our family. Our son has three older sisters.  Because he is the youngest, he thinks he can actually get away with almost anything. This past week, as we have packed for a move to our new home, and began unpacking in our new home; our son has been quite keen on organizing his room and unpacking. Every once in a while he will come across something in a bag or box that clearly does not belong to him. When his sisters realize that their possession is in his room our son loudly proclaims:  “Finders keepers loser weepers!” Soon a fight breaks out and our son re-iterates his firm belief in the idea that if you find something, then you get to claim it as your own. I congratulate him on his expert understanding of Finders Keepers Loser’s Weepers and then explain that in this house that rule does not apply.
            This week we read from Parsha Ki Teitze. Moshe reminds B'nai Yisroel of a variety of Laws. Moshe begins with the laws of behavior during war. Specifically, Moshe explains that a soldier cannot behave like an animal. Raping and Pillaging are not acceptable forms of behavior even during war. Instead the soldier mu st go through a period of time where he “cools off” and thinks about the practical implications of taking a captive wife. Moshe continues with laws concerning newlyweds, the rebellious son, the rights of the first born, the humane treatment of animals,  the sanctity of the camp, the Levirite marriage, and wiping out the memory of Amalek to name of the few mitzvot that  Moshe re-iterates. All these laws focus on human relations. All of these laws remind us that we must try to appeal the holiest aspect of ourselves and the basest aspect within our selves.
            Among the most practical laws that Moshe mentions is the laws concerning lost property. Lo Tireh Et Shor Achicha O Et Seiv Nidachim V’Hitalamta Meihem Hasheiv T’Shiveim L’Achicha. You Shall not see the ox of your brother or his sheep or goat cast off; and hide yourself from them; and you shall surely return them to your brother. Who is the “them” that the Torah refers? Is the “them” referring to the animals or the actually owners? The Talmud explains that them is the actual owners, in this particular case the sibling. Human nature suggest that we would be overcome by greed and perhaps even justify our actions because the person knows the owners. In the case when we don’t know the owners; one feels a greater sense of trying to return the lost item. When we know the owner, when it is our sibling, we make a series of assumptions that justify our taking and keeping the animals. Moshe reminds us that we can’t assume that our brother would want us to have the found item. Rather we need to actively overcome our greed, cherish our possessions and refrain from behavior that would make us want to hide ourselves. The Talmud also points out that the “them” could mean the animals. That is to say, when one sees our siblings animals (read: possessions), we ought not to hide from the animals. We should bring the animals’ home, and then notify the siblings that we have their possessions. If we agree with the Talmud’s first explanation, we are assuming a rather bleak perspective on human nature. If we agree with the Talmud’s second explanation, then we hold human nature in a more positive light.
Perhaps I am cynical. Maybe it is because I am a parent and have heard our son say “Finders Keepers” once too often. I do know that as we continue to unpack; I am willing to bet that our son will have an opportunity to fulfill the mitzvah of found property.  I have already told him that the next time he finds one of his sisters’ things; he ought to actively seek out his sister and return the item before she realizes that she was missing the item in the first place.  I promised him that it will make him feel better. The good thing is that there are so many boxes and I did the packing. And I know that by the end of the packing and the moving day everyone’s stuff was thoroughly mixed up.
Rav Yitz

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