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Mishpatim: The Lost Sheep

Miriam Aflalo

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

“If you come across your enemy’s ox or donkey going astray, bring it back to him.” (Shemos 23:4)

If a sheep or ox stray from the path, every person is obligated to return it to its owner. From here we learn: If the Torah has so much mercy on the possessions of Yisrael, how much more so we must have pity on the Jewish soul that strayed from the path. Even if he needs a lot of effort to bring him back. (Chofetz Chaim on the Torah)

My upstairs neighbors don’t have sheep.

They have a four-bedroom apartment. With a huge mirror in the entrance and a gorgeous set of couches. There are drapes on every window and window boxes full of geraniums on the porch. But no sheep at all. Nor an ox or donkeys. The only thing I have to return to them are the few clothespins that fall to my porch.

The last few weeks, my neighbor’s smile has been a bit forced when she meets me. She greets me warmly, but the luster is missing from her eyes.

A few days ago, I met her in the supermarket. She looked like she was about to start crying any second.

She doesn’t have a sheep or a donkey or an ox. But she has a daughter that went off the derech. A daughter that suddenly disappeared in the dense thicket that beckons to youth. A girl who made a complete mistake on the way home, and now she’s wandering dark dangerous streets and can’t find her way back.

I remember her. A sweet girl in a school uniform who would knock softly and ask to play with my kids. And suddenly she’s someone else entirely. Looks different. Dresses differently. Her whole essence is lost.

My neighbor cries every night into a tear-soaked pillow of pain. And in the morning she tries to stretch a smile on her face although the agony is still there.

To lose a child to these cruel streets. To watch with your own eyes how the days pass and she roams further away from her loving family. From truth and purity. And how the wolves and wild animals are waiting to trap her.

If you met my neighbor’s sheep straying on the path, you would definitely return it quickly. But my neighbor doesn’t have sheep. Only a young girl who strayed. What will you do when you meet her?

Chazal say: “Bring it back to him.” Repeatedly. Even a hundred times. And from here we learn, that even in our time, we need to work a hundred times to return those straying to the proper path — the way of Hashem.

Truthfully, in our days, the majority of sinners don’t want to anger Hashem. Rather, they made a mistake that caused them to lose direction. And they are really like a sheep that is lost that doesn’t know how to return to its owner. It’s a huge mitzvah to have pity on him and to show him the proper way. (ibid.)

The streets are full of them. Lost sheep in the arid desert. Their tongues sticking to their palates from thirst, as they search for the eternal well of water. They never really meant to flee from the shepherd. But they got lost among the cliffs and can’t find their way back.

And I am supposed to return these sheep? Me??

Yes. I am obligated to “bring it back to him” even a hundred times. I have to guide the sheep and return it to its Owner Who is waiting for it constantly with love.

But how?

I can support kiruv organizations. And I can learn with a partner who is interested in understanding more. I can invite guests to see the beauty of Shabbos.

And even more simple. I can smile and act pleasantly. This is the best way to return lost sheep. To make a kiddush Hashem with my actions. That provides proof, more than thousands of words, that this is the well of eternity.

My neighbor’s daughter is coming up the steps. I’m tempted to look away. Pretend I didn’t notice. But I smile and call a warm greeting. Let her know that I’m happy to see her.

Yes, even a hundred times. The ice that froze on the window of her soul will melt one day. If only everyone will greet her. And to all those who are lost —  send them rays of warmth that will light their way back.

My upstairs neighbor opens the door for her daughter. She extends her hand, a hand filled with wishes and prayers, as she lovingly welcomes her home.

Is it possible that we can hide from the pain of the sheep or from its yearning for its Shepherd?

Help him return.

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