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(Deut 21:10-25:19)

D'varim/Deuteronomy 22:1   You are not to see the ox of your brother or his lamb driven out and hide yourself from them; you shall surely return them to your brother.


As Jeffrey Tigay points out, this verse starts a section of social and domestic laws dealing mostly with property. This particular directive is a paraphrase of Shemot 23:4 - "When you encounter your enemy's ox or ass wandering, you must take it back to him" (JPS) - swapping 'enemy' for 'brother'. There is also a change of verb to describe the animal's status. There it is - a Qal active participle, ms, from the root , to wander or go astray - while here is a Niphal participle, mp, from the root , to expel, drive or thrust out, so meaning "driven out". Most of the mainstream translations opt for "going/gone astray" (ESV, NKJV, JPS) or "straying away" (CJB, NASB, NIV, NRSV), which do not really do justice to the strength of the verb in this verse. "Driven out", on the other hand, seems a little harsh for the meaning in its context. Who Is ...

Ramban: Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman of Gerona or Nachmanides (1194-1270 CE), Spanish rabbi, author and physician; defended Judaism in the Christian debates in Barcelona before making aliyah
Nachmanides suggests "running away, that is, the animal has escaped and is estranged from its owner" and quotes "I have strayed like a lost sheep" (Psalm 119:176, JPS) to claim that it is simply the way with sheep: they are always liable to get lost, it is part of their nature. Who Is ...

Nechama Leibowitz: (1905-1997 CE), born in Riga, graduate of the University of Berlin, made aliyah in 1931; professor at Tel Aviv University; taught Torah for over 50 years
Nechama Leibowitz compares this verse with its precursor and suggests that "there 'wandering' implies that it had wandered off a little but could be easily restored to its owner, without much trouble; here 'strayed' implies that the animal has wandered far afield, so that its return would involve much time and trouble". Richard Elliott Friedman's translation seems to imply deliberate action: "You shall not see your brother's ox or his sheep driven off" as if some third party were responsible.

So much for the animal; what about the viewer? The command is composed of two verbs and one negative particle: - not you shall see and [not, implied] you shall hide yourself. The first verb is a prefix form (from the root , to look or see) implying incomplete action: when or whenever rather than a single event, while the second is an affix form with a vav-reversive (from the root , to hide or conceal) implying a completed action. Whenever one sees a stray animal, one is not allowed to pretend that one hasn't seen it or be concerned about how much work it might involve. The Sages debate whether this applies to all people at all times (b. Baba Metzia 30a) and conclude that although it usually does, there are a number of exceptions. If, for example, the stray animal is seen by a cohen and the animal is located in a graveyard, the cohen must hide himself, since he is prohibited from entering a graveyard because it would make him ritually unclean. Similarly, if the stray animal is seen by a community elder or a scholar whose position or reputation would be damaged by moving the animal, he is excused from doing so.

Rabbi Who Is ...

Hirsch: Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch (1808-1888 CE), German rabbi, author and educator; staunch opponent of the Reform movement in Germany and one of the fathers of Orthodox Judaism
Hirsch comments that the instructions only apply if it is clear that the animal is lost; if it has been placed in its current position, then the owner is fully aware of and responsible for it, so the viewer must not move it. At the same time, Hirsch also points out that while some people may be excused from the obligation by virtue of their dignity or office, a better rule to apply is that anything they would do for their own animals, they must do for that of a neighbour: "nevertheless, it is expected that a man of character, when it comes to saving the property of his fellow-man will not hold himself strictly to the letter of the law, but would do that for somebody else's good which he would not even do for himself."

From the use of the "return" verb - an infinitive absolute immediately followed by another form of the same verb, usually translated 'you shall surely' or 'you shall certainly' - The Sages also concluded that the finder was obligated to keep on returning the animal even if it repeatedly ran away: "If he returned it and it ran away, returned it and it ran away, even four or five times, he is still bound to restore it, for it is written, 'You shall surely restore them'" (b. Baba Metzia 30b). Nachmanides wrote: ": you are to do it even a hundred times; : even to his garden or deserted shed", for there is no obligation for the finder to notify the owner that the animal has been returned.

What Is ...

Sefer HaChinuch: Originally ascribed to Rabbi Aharon HaLevi of Barcelona (1235-c.1290CE); a book that examines each of the 613 mitzvot in detail, following Maimonides' list and ordered by the weekly Torah portions; includes sources, biblical quotes and halacha
Sefer HaChinuch generalises Mitzvah #538 "The Religious Duty of Returning a Lost Object to Its Owner" from this text: "Returning something lost is a positive precept ... because in this lies a useful benefit for all and the harmony for the land, since forgetting and losing things is common to all people. 'All the commands of the L-rd are right, gladdening the heart' (Psalm 19:9)". HaChinuch alludes to another powerful principle: it is not only animals and property that become lost - people also get lost or go astray.

One day, when the crowds gathered around Him, to hear Him teach, Yeshua asked them a question about sheep: "What's your opinion? What will somebody do who has a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away? Won't he leave the ninety-nine on the hillsides and go off to find the stray? And if he happens to find it? Yes! I tell you he is happier over it than over the ninety-nine that never strayed! Thus your Father in heaven does not want even one of these little ones to be lost" (Matthew 18:12-14, CJB). Centuries before Yeshua, the prophet Isaiah prophesied, saying, "We all went astray like sheep, each going his own way, and the L-rd visited upon Him the guilt of all of us" (Isaiah 53:6, JPS). We were lost, but Yeshua found us. Those who don't know Yeshua are still lost and Yeshua is still looking for them, still wanting to bring them home with Him.

Just as the person who sees a lost animal may not pretend that he hasn't seen, but must attend to the animal and return it to its owner, Yeshua doesn't pretend that He hasn't seen us, but seeks us out and after binding up our wounds, brings us back to Father G-d. Even though it cost His own life, he didn't shrink back from rescuing us: "He was wounded because of our sins, crushed because of our iniquities. He bore the chastisement that made us whole, and by His bruises we were healed" (v. 5, JPS)). He went beyond the letter of the law, setting aside His own position and dignity, doing for us what we could not do for ourselves: "though He was in the form of God, He did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross" (Philippians 2:6-8, ESV). He became like us in every way, so that He might save us and redeem us, bringing us back to G-d: "Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death He might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery" (Hebrews 2:14-15, ESV).

Even though we G-d's enemies, He sought us out to bring reconciliation: "While we were enemies we were reconciled to G-d by the death of His Son" (Romans 5:10, ESV), "G-d in the Messiah was reconciling mankind to Himself, not counting their sins against them" (2 Corinthians 5:19, CJB). Although we had run away and had wandered over many hills, Yeshua saw us, met us where we were and brought us home - is still bringing us home - to be with Him. In the same way, we too are now on the lookout for waifs and strays; we are charged with getting alongside them and introducing them to the Shepherd who wants to rescue them as well.

Further Study: Romans 12:20-21; John 10:27-29

Application: Are you watching out for stragglers and lost sheep among the people you know? Time is running out and Yeshua wants all His sheep brought safely home.

© Jonathan Allen, 2012



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