This week’s parasha, Ki Tetzei, contains an incredibly diverse set of mitzvot covering topics ranging from civil law, criminal law, war captives, property, boundaries, crops, animals and the like.
Among all these various instructions essential for creating a just and ethical society is one of the most profound: “if you see your fellow Israelite’s ox or sheep gone astray, do not ignore it; you must take it back to your peer … you must not remain indifferent.”1
Rashi, commenting on the phrase, “do not ignore it,” our great medieval sage argues we must not hide our eyes as if we did not see them. How easy is it to turn aside and pretend that we have not seen what we have just seen?
But it is more than simply about not just hiding our eyes when we see a living being in distress. In the words of Rabbi Artson, “this positive commandment obligates us all. It provokes us beyond our indifference, beyond our usual self-centered obsessions, and forces us to reorient our focus. Rather than allowing us to occupy our own total attention, the Torah shifts us to God and to God’s perspective. While from our position, we may justify minding our own business, from God’s perspective all life is a matter of spiritual concern. As God’s agents on earth, we are charged with the care of every living being.”2
To express our Judaism means that we are to act in ways that demonstrate out love, concern and care for our fellow human beings. Pikauch Nefesh, the rabbinic principle of saving a life is an extension of this very idea. There are many other ways this mitzvah can be brought to fruition, but it all begins with the central question, what have I done and what am I continuing to do to help take care of every living being?
Rabbi Benjamin A. Sharff
1 Deuteronomy 22:1 -3
2 Artson, Rabbi Bradley Shavit, The Bedside Torah, McGraw Hill, 2001, pg. 322