Wednesday, September 3, 2014

All He Lost He Shall Regain (Robert Hunter, Phil Lesh & Jerry Garcia- "St. Stephen")

Labor Day came and went. With it went summer vacation. After the annual sleepless night before the first day of school, our kids woke up and braced themselves for another school year. Besides the anxiety of  a new grade, a new set of expectations, new teachers, renewing  friendships, there is the anxiety about recess and who plays with whom, who socializes with whom, and the politics of the playground.  Of course, within the hallowed halls of the classroom, some information is transmitted. However, the playground is the place where wisdom and life experience is obtained. Of course this is very different than the information transmitted in a classroom. The playground is the place where life’s lessons occur including: “finders keepers losers weepers” or “might make right”.  As we watch children at play during recess or in real playgrounds, it is interesting to note how different such playgrounds are compared to a Jewish Playground. What is the difference between a playground and a Jewish playground? Most Jews who did not grow up in the Yeshiva world would assume that the first lessons learned in Mishnah or Gemarra would be dealing with the issues of Shabbat, Idolatry, or Torah. However, such a person would be sorely mistaken. The first piece of Mishnah traditionally taught to a Jewish child from the tractate of Baba Metziah.  Shnayim Ochazim B’Talit, - If two persons are holding a cloakZeh Omer Ani M'tzatiha v’Zeh Omer Ani M’tzatiha – and one says ‘I found it’ and the other says ‘I found it’, Zeh Omer Kulah Sheli v’Zeh Omer Kula Sheliand one says it ‘the whole thing belongs to me’ and the other says the ‘whole thing belongs to me’ Zeh Yishavah Sh’Ein Lo Vah Pachut Meichetzya, v’Zeh Yishavah Sh’Ein Lo Vah Pachut Meichetzya – each shall swear that not less than half belongs him, V’Yachalokuthey shall divide it in half [each gets half the value of the garment] (Mishnah Baba Metziah 1:1). Judaism doesn’t teach one of the fundamental laws of The Playground, “finder’s keeper’s loser’s weepers”. Assuming that both have an equal and valid claim, our sages teach us to share the value of newly found object. Judaism puts a premium on returning lost objects to their rightful owner. Ownership is not nine- tenths of the law although from a cynical perspective, that is what we learned on the playground and generally speaking, that is what our children learn on the playground or in outdoor recess.
            This week’s Parsha is Ki Teitzah. Moshe continues teaching the Tachlis, the practical mundane everyday laws that must exist for a society to function with itself. Certainly the Aseret Dibrot, the Ten Commandments receive bigger billing. Certainly discussions about Idolatry, God’s oneness, and the timelessness of God’s covenant with B’nai Yisroel strikes greater awe within us. However the mitzvot concerning lost objects goes to the very heart of a community and the high level at which it community members work within that community and contribute to its holiness. Interestingly enough it is not enough to return a lost object to its rightful owners.  Lo Tireh et Shor Achichah O et Seiyo Nidachim v’itlamtah 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, you shall surely return them to your brother (Deut.22:1). We don’t hide from it, we do not pretend to ignore and continue on our way. Rather we are commanded to do everything we can to return that lost object to the owner. We do not hide from the lost object. We don’t avoid the tsuris of another. The commentators explain that laws concerning lost material are not only applicable to material objects but intangible ones as well.
            On the secular playground our children learn about self-protection, and self-defense. On the secular playground our children are focused upon themselves as individuals or as individuals within the context of the group. However on this Jewish Playground, the focus is not on the individual per se; but rather the role of the individual as part of something much larger, the community. On the Jewish playground, the individual is merely part of the community. Certainly the individual can enhance the community or detract from the community but everything is in terms of the community. Whether it’s the finding of a lost item, claiming a lost item, or the obligation to return the lost item to the rightful owner; eventually we all find things and we all lose things. Instead of the anxiety of worrying about the lost item ever being found, or jumping to the conclusion that the misplaced item was stolen; both the Torah (the written law) and the Talmud (the Oral Law) understand that the secret to “community’. Community is built upon a sense of trust that exists within it and the sense that each individual has an obligation to enhance the community in which he/she lives, works, or learns. Hopefully, our children will remember that as they enjoy their time on the playground.
Rav Yitz

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