Our parsha brings the mitzvah of hashavat aveida, returning a lost possession back to its owner: “You shall not see your brother’s ox or sheep cast off and hide from them; you shall surely return them to your brother” (Devarim, 22:1).
Ramban notes that the language of “cast off” in reference to the owner’s lost animal refers to a situation where it is quite distant from its owner, and thus even though it may require much effort [and presumably time], we are still to go through the exertion and return it. Fascinatingly, Ibn Ezra learns (albeit homiletically) that the connection between war, which is mentioned in the beginning of our parsha, and this mitzvah of hashavat aveida is coming to teach us that even in times of war we have the mitzvah of hashavat aveida. Wartime is probably a highly hectic time, with much tension and perhaps a tunnel vision experience. The fight or flight response may be at its peak. Yet, we can perhaps learn from here that while one may be personally undergoing stressful or difficult times, or has his focus zoned into his own activities, there nevertheless may still be the idea of hashavat aveida. Moreover, the Gemara (Bava Metzia, 31) says that we learn from the word of “hashev” (the pasuk says “hashev teshivem,” which both mean to return) that even if the owner’s animal flees 100 times, one is still to keep on returning it! We see from all this how much the Torah expects of us, and in turn the potential we have to help another in any given realm even when we ourselves are going through difficult circumstances.
Rashi on the words “and you will hide from them” explains that this refers to someone who “covers up his eyes as if he doesn’t see it.” We can ask, what’s Rashi adding that wasn’t already understood from the basic understanding?
R’ Yerucham Levovitz explains that there are two types of “seeing”: external seeing, which is superficial, and internal seeing, which is a byproduct of really giving thought and attention to what one sees. What Rashi means when he says “he covers his eyes as if he doesn’t see” is that although he may have externally seen, however, he doesn’t engage in the internal function of seeing.
If we could perhaps put it in other words and maybe explain what he means: There is one seeing where we simply saw something but the representation and meaning of what we saw didn’t register into our conscience. The internal seeing, however, is when one sees into the meaning and framework of that which he superficially saw. A person might see an object and that’s it. However, when a person then “looks again”—i.e., he ponders the broader picture of this object, why it’s there, that maybe it’s someone’s, etc.,—that’s internal seeing. Hence when Rashi says that a person “covers up his eyes as if he doesn’t see” he may not mean literally closing his eyes but rather that he “covers up”—i.e., he doesn’t engage—in this second function of seeing—the internal process.
Yet I wondered if maybe there is an even deeper idea here. Rashi seems to imply that a person proactively covers his eyes to ignore what he saw. Perhaps we can therefore suggest that along with the superficial, external seeing comes with it a fleeting, minute, and perhaps somewhat subconscious gut feeling about what needs to be done in that given situation. (Even a glance sometimes creates a whole array of meaning and understanding to the picture that may just enter solely into our subconscious although not in our practical and intellectual thought process.) Hence, although it’s not necessarily a surfaced emotion and conscious thought, but rather just a fleeting gut feeling, nevertheless to some degree such a person’s emotions may be naturally stirred to do something. However, a person may ignore that and not act upon it and actively “cover up his eyes” (meaning overcome and ignore his gut feeling) as if he didn’t see anything. He may stifle that subconscious emotion.
Beyond just an encounter with a lost object, we may encounter other areas of life where someone or something can be helped and benefited. We might have situations where we externally see things or people and feel a fleeting pull that something can be done. We can learn from hashavat aveida the importance of seeing things twice—to give more thought to that initial seeing and act upon it in order to help in any given capacity. And also, that we are capable of doing so even if we ourselves may be going through tough times.
Binyamin Benji can be reached at [email protected]