Ki Teitzeh 5783 – If Only (Lulei)
We are now a few days into the month of Elul – a time of introspection and reflection, of looking forward and looking back. This time period need not only be felt with fear and trepidation, but rather with hope and excitement. The letters א.ל.ו.ל also spell out the word לוּלֵא – meaning “if only.” This time of year is filled with possibility if we allow ourselves to be open to change.
And so much of this is a matter of our own intentionality, our own mindset. We see this clearly in a verse from this week’s parashah, Ki Teitzeh. We read,
לֹא־תִרְאֶה אֶת־שׁוֹר אָחִיךָ אוֹ אֶת־שֵׂיוֹ נִדָּחִים וְהִתְעַלַּמְתָּ מֵהֶם הָשֵׁב תְּשִׁיבֵם לְאָחִיךָ׃
“If you see your kin’s ox or sheep gone astray, do not ignore it; you must take it back to your kin (Deut. 22:1).”
A very similar line appears in the book of Shemot, with one very important difference:
כִּי תִפְגַּע שׁוֹר אֹֽיִבְךָ אוֹ חֲמֹרוֹ תֹּעֶה הָשֵׁב תְּשִׁיבֶנּוּ לֽוֹ׃
When you encounter your enemy’s ox or donkey wandering, you must take it back to them. (Ex. 23:4)
According to Rabbeinu B’chayeh (A prolific Bible commentator who lived in 13th century Spain), these two verses are actually talking about the same person and the same lost animal. Taken together, these two verses are telling us that it is not enough to just return the lost property of our enemy. Rather, in the process of doing this mitzvah, our entire relationship with this person must change, from הַשֵב תְּשִׁיבֶנּוּ לֽוֹ, “give it back to them,” to הָשֵׁב תְּשִׁיבֵם לְאָחִיךָ, “give it back to your kin.”
With time and thought, our perspective changes. We begin to understand ourselves and our fellow human beings better. But this only happens if we can soften our hearts. That is what this month of Elul, this month leading up to the High Holidays, is for.
The verse in this song above by my dear friend Eliana Light comes from Psalm 27, the psalm we say every day from Rosh Chodesh Elul to the end of the High Holiday season. It captures that feeling of לוּלֵא, of “what if?” and sings to us to look forward, strengthen ourselves, and ready ourselves for whatever may lie ahead in the year to come. Be sure to check out her new album which comes out next Thursday August 31st! Pre-save here
This Shabbat, think about the ways in which we can reflect on our past interactions. How can we view those moments differently? How can we change our perspective and our relationships for the better in the year to come?