Thoughts about Parashat Ki Teitzei, in anticipation of the Shmitta (sabbatical) year
“If you see your fellow's ox or sheep gone astray, do not ignore it; you must take it back to your fellow. If your fellow does not live near you or you do not know who he is, you shall bring it home and it shall remain with you until your fellow claims it… you cannot ignore it.” (Dt. 22:1-3)
The first meaning of the verse is clear to us, we must not ignore the lost animal but the second verse says "cannot." Certainly we can ignore it. Indeed, it easier to ignore an ox than to lead it home, make space for it and feed it until the owner appears.
The Torah is full of commandments that are much easier to ignore than keep. It is well known that the commandments are multi-faceted, but no one claims that keeping them makes life easier. Commandments between humanity and God add holiness to our lives; commandments between people help build a more just society and educate us to be sensitive to the needs of others.
The Sfas Emes, Rabbi Aryeh Leib of Ger, wrote that “cannot” should be interpreted to mean that a person must accustom himself to keeping the commandment until it become habitual and he is truly unable to ignore another’s loss.
Professor Yeshayahu Leibowitz wrote in “Faith, History and Values, "The reality of the last few generations is one that the Jewish law that developed throughout Jewish history could not have anticipated and about which it knows nothing... All of our social, economic and political problems require new thinking.”
One of the commandments that is not appropriate for our social and economic reality is: “When you reap the harvest in your field and overlook a sheaf in the field, do not turn back to get it; it shall go to the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow” (Deuteronomy 24:19).
Our reality is 180° from this commandments. In our commercial food supply system, if we forget a certain product on the shelf in the supermarket, it will not help anyone, neither the poor, nor the stranger nor the migrant worker. So I suggest that we should invert the commandment. Instead of forgetting and leaving, we should remember and take (buy) extra food every time we shop and remember to donate the extra item to the needy (At Hod VeHadar there is a basket for donations to Melo Hatenne, a volunteer organization that distributes food baskets to the needy in Kfar Saba once a week).
This coming year 5775 will be a Shmitta (sabbatical year). We must never ignore the needs of the poor, this command is even more urgent in a Shmitta year.
We can all incorporate this practice into our budget and schedule. The time required is minimal; the budget is very flexible: all dry or canned food is welcome.
In this way, the objectives of the Torah, that we provide for the basic needs of the poor every time we supply ourselves with food, and increase the sensitivity, will be achieved despite the enormous change in economic conditions.