Ki Teitzei: The Claimant’s Stone

My great grandfather used to say that nothing ever gets lost. In his older years, when asked where he put his keys or his favorite hat, he would simply say, “It’s in a special place,” meaning he had no idea where his keys or hat were.  He knew they were somewhere and because he didn’t know, that made the place special. To him, there was a huge difference between not knowing where an object is, and having it be lost.  It’s wonderfully optimistic and a bit spiritual when you think about it.  Just because it’s out of sight, doesn’t mean that you won’t get it back. For something to be truly lost, you have to lose hope. You have despair over it and give up.    

Nothing is lost until you let it be.   

Today it’s hard not to despair. When I speak to folks of all political, economic, and social stripes, many just feel that we are stuck in a malaise of malcontent.  A sourness has crept into our hearts that feeds upon itself.  It’s like we’re all waiting to get angry or disappointed with each other. Many young adults I speak with feel they will be less prosperous and their lives will be harder than their parents’ lives. It’s hard for them to see a future that gives them uplift. I know families who don’t talk to each other because of politics. I know families that have been torn apart by addiction or mental illness or both. Friends lost. Loved ones lost. Futures lost.   

In this week’s Torah portion, Ki Teitzei, we learn about how to guard ourselves from losing hope. From all of the places that we could learn this idea, the Torah chooses for us to learn it from an ox.  “Do not see your fellow’s ox or sheep gone astray; you must not ignore it.  You must take it back to them.” (Deut. 22:1)  You are not allowed for “missing” to become “lost.” You must not ignore the animals. You must return them.  Deeper still, the Torah’s language is intentional when it says, “Do not see.”  The language of sight here is powerful.  It is not only that you must return what is lost, but you cannot allow yourself to view the ox or sheep as lost.  What begins as an obligation to return a missing animal transforms into an entire worldview. Do not see the world as lost.  Do not see a world that is only dark – with no light.  Do not give up. Do not look upon the world and give up. You are not allowed to despair. The midrash adds, “You must surely return what is lost, even until the thousandth time.” (Midrash Aggadah ad locum

You cannot ignore what is wrong and broken in the world, but you cannot give up on it either. 

Nothing is lost until you let it be.  

According to legend, there was a large stone in the middle of the ancient city of Jerusalem called the “Claimant’s Stone.” Anyone who lost something would be directed there to declare that they were looking for the item.  Similarly, those who found lost objects would bring them to the stone and declare that they had found the item. In that place and upon that stone those who have lost and those who have found would seek out each other. (T.B. Baba Metzia 28b)  

In our day there is no stone, but there is a place.  It is in your heart.   The Hebrew word teshuvah means “return.”  Not just repentance from sin, but literally to return from some other place.  At this time of year, when we prepare for the High Holy Days, we need to create spaces in our hearts for our own Claimant’s Stones.  A place inside yourself and with your community to declare something is lost and something has been found.  

In a few weeks when we gather together as a people and wonder, “Where did my life go?”
“Where did I put all my energy, my anger, my love and worry?” “Where did my hope go?” 

In that moment, we can look across the room at those whom we love. We can glance at those whom we’ve wronged.  We can look out the window at a world that is yet to be perfected.  Finally, we can look inside ourselves and find those parts of us that feel broken and lost. We can look, but as the Torah says, “Do not see what has gone astray.”  Do not look upon the world with despair.  The world is unfolding in front of you, and you must not let it be lost.

As we gather, at the turning of the year, come back to the community and find the stone to stake your claim.  We can all be made good again, through teshuvah, because nothing is lost until you let it be. You can stake your claim for the future by returning anger with love, loss with hope, worry with gratitude, and most of all, declare that what has been lost can be found again – even until the thousandth time. 

Shabbat Shalom  

Shannah Tovah – May you have a sweet New Year.

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