In this week’s parashah we read 72 of the 613 commandments, the largest number in any single portion. They cover an incredible range of issues from how to deal with a wayward and defiant son, to the rights of strangers who may be living within our communities.
At the end of a section dealing with the laws of lost property, there is a very interesting phrase, “lo tuchal lehitalem” which is translated as “you must not remain indifferent.” Generally, this passage is interpreted in its context as dealing with lost property, suggesting that when we find something which belongs to another person we must not ignore it, rather, we should actively seek out the person who has lost the property and return it to them. Further, the
commentators say that we must do more. It is not enough to be active about returning property once it is found, we should also be vigilant about keeping our eyes open, always looking for the opportunity to find and return lost items.
But I wonder whether we can take the phrase and interpret it in a broader context. When we look at the entire parashah, much time is spent with laws to protect and care for people in our communities, especially the vulnerable and weak. Perhaps we can apply the phrase to all our interactions, not just those dealing with property which is lost. We are encouraged then, to be actively seeking the injustice in our world, to be vigilant about seeing places and people who are in danger of harm and working to make their lives safe and better. How easy it is to bury our heads in the sand, not to see the stains fractures in our world and our societies. It is much simpler not to notice those who are struggling, those who need our help, because then we are not challenged or confronted, we can believe and imagine that our world is a beautiful place. But our world is not ok. So many people need our help, there are so many who are reaching out and crying out to us, and the Torah commands us “Do not be indifferent.” Do not wait until their cries reach the level where we can hear them, instead listen, actively seek the places and people who need us, and then reach out our hands to help.
This week we will commemorate the tragic event that took place on 9/11 . During these past week we have been hearing the damages caused by Irene in Vermont. This morning we heard the UN alerting about the situation in Somalia and asking for help . The report on the radio that 4 million people are affected, suffering, dying, crying out for our assistance. And it is not coming. We hear about compassion fatigue, donor fatigue, that people cannot give anymore, that we are no longer moved by large scale human suffering because we have seen so much. We are no longer shocked. But the Torah says “do not be indifferent!” Hear the cries of those who are vulnerable, those who are hurting. This is perhaps one of the greatest humanitarian disasters ever to strike a nation. Do not be indifferent, reach out, offer a hand and do what we can to bring healing and hope.