This post is dedicated in memory of Shlomo ben Arye Zalman. May it be an aliyah for his neshama.This week's torah portion touches upon an idea we've talked about before - the mitzvah of 'viahavta l'arecha komocha' to love your neighbor as yourself. These few words are so simple, but have such deep meaning. One of the facets of this idea can be found in the parsha, which states in essence, "If you see something of your brother's don't leave it, you must return it to him" (Devarim 22:1).
Even though the Torah uses the word 'אח' which means brother, the true meaning of the word in this sense is your fellow Jew (this is part of the reason why all of klal Yisrael are considered to be part of the same family). At first glance, this doesn't seem like such a big deal, you see something on the street that you know belongs to a friend or acquaintance, so you pick it up in order to return it to them. But the requirement is more than that. You need to hold on to it until you can return it to him - even if you don't know who it belongs to.
The Torah is requiring us to become hoarders, filling our homes with misplaced items impossible to return to their rightful owners. In fact, it's demanding of us two things - firstly, don't be lazy. If you see something you know someone has lost, pick it up. Secondly, try to return it to its owner. There are of course rules for extenuating circumstances - if the item is perishable food that would go bad quickly if not consumed you are allowed to eat it. Or if it's so generic that it's impossible to find its owner, such as a ballpoint pen, or if you can be certain the owner has considered it lost, then you are allowed to keep it, but otherwise you have to try to return it. What is G-d's motivation in commanding us to try to return an item to it's owner? After all, Judaism doesn't exactly advocate having lots of material things. One possible explanation is to make us more compassionate.
First, if we think of every Jew as our brother or sister, automatically we will be more caring about them (ideally). A person is much more likely to go out of their way for an immediate family member than a stranger. Then, by commanding you not to keep the item, but to guard it until it can be returned, you are forced to practice some self restraint. That effort allows you to visualize and appreciate how happy the owner of the item will be once they are reunited, and perhaps even motivate you to find the owner as quickly as possible. It's small actions like these that are really the glue of a society.
We can see how this mitzvah has been internalized by klal Yisrael with the fact that Israel has a low crime compared to other cities and countries. Just another reason why Israel is the best place to be!