Lost and Found
By Rabbi Yitzchok Tzvi Schwarz
There he stood, in a most improbable destination, at a strange venue, surrounded by unfamiliar faces, and, most of all, standing face to face with the leader of the generation, Shmuel Hanovi. For Shaul ben Kish, what a bizarre journey it had been. How did he get here? He wasn’t quite sure himself. His father had lost his donkeys and he asked Shaul to take an attendant with him and go look for them. Why it was necessary for him to do this when it could have been done by servants was beyond him. But he fulfilled kibbud av without asking any questions.
Now, as a rule, donkeys are not the fleetest of foot and do not wander off very far from home. Yet, Shaul and his companion traveled for three days looking for those animals. They passed through Mount Efraim and the land of Shalisha. From there they went to Sha’alim and through the land of shevet Binyomin and now they were in the land of Tzuf. Three days wasted and they were no closer to finding the animals than they were before.
Shaul wanted to head back home, fearing that his father would worry about him. But the attendant suggested that they visit the See’er, a term given to the novi in those days, for he saw all of the people’s personal matters and could tell them where to find what was lost. Shaul followed the advice of his companion and now unexpectedly stood facing Shmuel on a bamah where a korban was about to be brought.
Shaul was in for the surprise of his life. In fact, this was a feast to be held in his honor. A day before, Hashem had revealed to Shmuel that a dignified person was coming to town. Much to the dissatisfaction of Hashem and Shmuel, the Jews had requested a king. The time was not yet ripe for true malchus from shevet Yehudah to be inaugurated, so a worthy substitute had to be chosen. Now, here he was, and his rulership would be publicized at this event.
Shmuel told Shaul, “I am the See’er! Go up before me to the bamah and you shall eat with me today. I will send you away in the morning and I will tell you whatever is in your heart. As for your donkeys which have been lost to you now for three days, do not concern yourself over them, for they have been found. Besides, to whom does all the desirable property belong if not to you and all of your father’s family” (Shmuel I, 9:19-21). This is when Shmuel broke the news to him that he was about to become king.
The fact that Shmuel told Shaul, “I will tell you whatever is in your heart,” implies that Shaul had other questions aside from where the donkeys were. What is it that he was wondering about?
The meforshim explain that Shaul was surprised at himself: “How is it that I traveled so far away from home to find the donkeys, when, in all probability, they didn’t wander away so far? What got into me? And if Hashem wanted my father to lose money, they could have just died while working. Why was it necessary for me to waste all of this precious time?” Now, of course, he was about to find out the answer, which was to bring him to Shmuel so that he could be appointed king. But Hashem has many ways to bring people together. Was there any significance in the fact that Shaul’s kingdom came about through lost animals?
The Be’er Moshe explains that from heaven, Shaul was taught, “If you spent three full days going out of your way to salvage mere donkeys, how much more so is it incumbent upon you to go the extra mile and retrieve souls that are lost to Hashem and Klal Yisroel. There are wandering neshamos that have lost direction. Every Yid, and especially the king, who is responsible for Hashem’s nation, must make the extra effort to secure the spiritual safety of each and every one of Hashem’s children.”
In this week’s sedrah, we learn, “If you encounter an ox of your enemy or his donkey wandering, you shall return it to him repeatedly” (23:4). The Torah elaborates on this in Sefer Devorim: “You shall not see the ox of your brother or his sheep or goat cast off and hide yourself from them; you shall surely return them to your brother. If your brother is not near you and you do not know him, then gather it inside your house, and it shall remain with you until brother inquires after it and you return it to him” (Devorim 22:1).
The Ohr Hachaim Hakadosh explains this mitzvah homiletically as follows. The ox refers to Yidden who appear as animals. They are unrefined and lack spirituality like the animals, but, in reality, they are sheep, the tzon kedoshim, the holy flock, of your brother, your closest relative, Hashem, isolated from Torah and mitzvos. Do not hide yourself from them. Rather, make every effort to return them to your brother, Hashem.
And if your brother, Hashem, is not near you for it is during the time of the final golus when things are bleak, and you do not know when this darkness is coming to an end, this causes neshamos to wander far from Hashem and become weakened in emunah, as we see in our generation (the Ohr Hachaim’s generation; what shall we say hundreds of years later?). Then gather these souls into your house, the bais medrash, and teach them until your brother, Hashem, will welcome them back into the fold.
If we are required to go to all lengths to bring back lost souls, doesn’t it stand to reason that we should do all we can to keep them in our midst in the first place? After all, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. It’s much more energy efficient, and it saves time and a lot of heartache.
We are witnessing extraordinary miracles in Jewish communities worldwide. Who would have believed just fifty years ago that we would see such tremendous growth of Torah institutions both in quantity and quality after such devastation during World War II? With great siyata diShmaya and the mesirus nefesh of our gedolim and askonim, we really have something to be proud of.
And yet, one can always hear sounds of discontent: “My son doesn’t feel satisfaction in his learning.” Or,“The lessons just don’t talk to my daughter.” Of course, it is inevitable that in every rabbim there will be dissatisfied individuals. But are we satisfied with ignoring the individuals when every Yiddishe neshamah is precious? And are those voices so few and far in between?
Recently, in the Chinuch Roundtable, a very sad statistic was quoted: The percentage of students who are happy dwindles progressively from the time they are in kindergarten until they reach their final year in high school. This was attributed to the emphasis placed on intellectual achievement over all other matters.
We need not apologize for placing the accent on limud haTorah, for it is chayeinu ve’orech yomeinu. The fact of the matter, however, is that not everyone is as capable of understanding a Rav Chaim and not everyone is as motivated enough to comb the depths of the Yam Hatalmud.
“Toras Hashem temimah meshivas nofesh” (Tehillim 19:18). The Torah of Hashem is complete and perfect, restoring the soul. The Torah speaks to all people using all methods to cater to each person according to his characteristics and capabilities. There are various segments of Torah, some catering to the intellect, some to the heart and spirit. There is halacha, there is aggadita, and there is Tanach. If we are able to blend all of these into our teachings, we can reach the hearts of more people.
Recently, our yeshiva, Mesivta Ohel Torah of Monsey, had the privilege of hearing divrei chizuk from Dayan Aharon Dovid Dunner of London. Amongst numerous gems, he offered the following eye-opener. A newly-appointed mashgiach of a yeshiva visited Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv and asked him how to approach this new position. Rav Elyashiv answered, “B’derech hateva a masmid usually becomes a talmid chochom. A baal kishron, one with a good head, does not necessarily become a talmid chochom. Your job is to see to it that a bochur becomes a masmid.
“But one doesn’t make masmidim. Hasmadah comes from within the person himself. Often, though, there are worries within the talmid’s heart that prevent him from totally dedicating himself to learning. These worries can vary from family issues and relationships with friends to doubting one’s own abilities etc. Your job as a mashgiach is to clear these worries away from the talmid’s heart so that it is free to imbibe the wonderful words of Torah.”
How enlightening these words are. Merubim tzorchei amcha. Each individual has his own worries. Some of them may be real and some of them are not. Regardless, mechanchim and parents have to be aware of this so that these fears may be assuaged. In the American culture, there is competition for jobs, business and status, and the country is preoccupied with sports. Competition is not a Jewish value, yet it has seeped its way into our mentality.
A subconscious thought of many yeshiva bochurim is, “How do I compare with my friends?” And if in his perception he is somewhat behind, he can get depressed, causing him more difficulty in his progress. We must impress on talmidim that in Torah there is no competition. If their marks are not the highest, Hashem does not love them any less. This is not about their friends. It’s about their relationship with Hashem. If one does his best, whether he accomplishes more or accomplishes less, he will get equal reward as long as he works l’sheim Shomayim.
Even boys who are metzuyanim often need assurance that they are doing well, for they, too, can have feelings of self doubt. We teach them to have she’ifos, aspirations for greatness, but this can backfire if it is not properly tempered. When striving for higher levels, we can sometimes get discouraged that we are not attaining those goals. In the process, we forget that we have accomplished so much, and this can be very disconcerting.
Rav Avrohom Pam points out how important it is not to forget how much we have accomplished, for only when one realizes his achievements does he have the energy and drive to move forward. Chazal say, “He who has a moneh, a hundred coins, wants two hundred” (Kohelles Rabbah 1:13). One who has a hundred thousand dollars strives to become a millionaire, and a millionaire strives to become a billionaire. But if the person does not recognize that he has a considerable sum, and instead he feels like a pauper and a shlemazel, he most certainly won’t have the impetus to acquire more. This is surely true with ruchniyus. The budding talmid chochom must remember how much he has accomplished.
Another important yesod that must be communicated is that the road to success is often not a straight one. There are curves and glitches along the way. When the Yidden left Mitzrayim on their way to the Promised Land, Hashem did not lead them via the direct route. One may often wander before he reaches his destination. This was the lech lecha of Avrohom Avinu and the golus of Yaakov Avinu.
Perhaps this is another lesson for Shaul embarking on a three-day journey for some lost donkeys. He wandered from place to place, not knowing where this would lead him, and then, surprisingly, he ended up with chemdas Yisroel, the desire of his people…malchus.