Parsha Mitzvot: Ki Teitzei: Mitzvot 535 & 562 – Concepts 479 & 480
Sherwin Nuland, one of my favorite authors, was born Shepsel Nudelman. Everything about his father, Meyer, was a source of searing embarrassment to the son. Indeed, Nuland is unsparing in relating his youthful cruelties to his father. In 1947, while in medical school, he discovered the cause of his father’s symptoms and behaviors: He had suffered from tertiary syphilis his entire adult life – a fact his doctors knew but never told him. The shocking knowledge led to some easing of the painful father-son relationship, but Meyer died shortly afterward. He is striving to make peace with all that he lost and is trying to make peace with his past, a peace revealed in his choice of epigraph – words from the Jewish philosopher, Philo of Alexandria: “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle.”
“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.” (Deuteronomy 22:1) A person may not ignore an object lost by someone else. (Concept #479) He must return the lost object. (#480)
Nuland’s story reminds us that there are non-physical things we can return and restore; a person’s dignity, as he restored his father’s dignity, and the father-son relationship just before his father’s passing.
During Elul, when we begin the process of Teshuva – Returning – we reflect on interactions and relationships. We recall our hurtful words and actions to others. The Teshuva process includes remembering, “They too are fighting a great battle.” Perhaps they provoked the unkind words and actions, but if we remember that their words may have reflected their own battles, we can restore their dignity in our minds when we approach them and ask for forgiveness.