If you see your fellow Israelite’s ox or sheep straying, do not ignore it but be sure to take it back to its owner. — Deuteronomy 22:1
The Torah portion for this week is Ki Teitzei, which means “when you go out,” from Deuteronomy 21:10–25:19, and the Haftorah is from Isaiah 54:1–10.
Like every other high school senior, Courtney Barich dreamed of her prom night. She would wear a magnificent dress and dance the night away like Cinderella. However, as Courtney searched for a gown, something in her changed.
Courtney had found the perfect dress with a $700 price tag that was within her budget. The store asked Courtney to return the next day for alterations. On the way home, Courtney couldn’t help but feel wrong about spending so much money on a dress that she would wear for one evening. As she second-guessed her choice to her mom, Courtney’s mom replied, “You’d look good in anything, even a potato sack.”
That off-the-cuff remark set off a light bulb in Courtney’s head. In a few months, Courtney was headed to the Philippines on a school mission to help out a poor orphanage in need. Courtney pledged to wear a burlap potato sack to prom if she could raise $10,000 for the orphanage. On prom night, she made good on her promise and wore a burlap dress fashioned by a designer who donated her time to help Courtney out. As her other friends displayed glitzy and glamorous gowns, Courtney glowed with the joy of knowing that she had made a positive difference in the lives of those in need.
In this week’s Torah portion, we learn about the requirement to return lost objects. The verse reads: “If you see your fellow Israelite’s ox or sheep straying, do not ignore it but be sure to take it back to its owner.” The Jewish sages provide an alternative understanding for this verse that goes beyond objects and individuals. In a more general sense, the verse is teaching us that if we come across any problem at all – a lost object, a lost child, or any need – we must do what we can to solve it.
The verse stresses “do not ignore it,” don’t hide or look away from the needs that come your way. In a world filled with problems, if we know about one, we are required to do what we can about it. In Deuteronomy 19:16 we read: “Do not stand idly by when your neighbor's life is threatened.” This teaches us that we cannot stand by as others starve or lack the basic needs and freedom needed to thrive.
It’s true — none of us can fix everything, but all of us can do something. Just as Courtney did, with a little creativity and determination, we, too, can make a significant impact on the lives of our brothers and sisters in need. Remember, if God shows us a problem, we must ask how we can help. How might you contribute to God’s purposes today?
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President