Ki Tetze: Straying Livestock
Yeshua (Jesus) commands in Luke 6:31, “Treat others the same way you want them to treat you.” The essence of this commandment is also found in the Torah, where God provides specific examples of how we are to treat our neighbor as we would like to be treated.
God tells the people through the mouth of Moses, “You shall not see your countryman’s ox or his sheep straying away, and pay no attention to them; you shall certainly bring them back to your countryman” (Deuteronomy 22:1). The people of Israel relied heavily upon agriculture and tending livestock. If one or two of a person’s livestock had begun to stray away and the owner did not notice, God says that one who sees this has to stop and prevent the animal from straying away and becoming lost, which would pose financial loss to the one who lost the animal. The temptation in this case would be to either ignore the straying animal and continue on your way, or some may even be tempted to take the animal and claim it as their own. To stop what you are doing and help out your neighbor takes a self-sacrificing spirit.
He continues: “If your countryman is not near you, or if you do not know him, then you shall bring it home to your house, and it shall remain with you until your countryman looks for it; then you shall restore it to him” (Deuteronomy 22:2). If you find the animal but do not know who the owner is, it is now your obligation to keep that animal until you can discover who the owner is. This would require the person who found the animal to pay the expenses of feeding it, to expend the labor required to take care of it, to house it, and so on. This extra care was not only required in the case of lost livestock, but for anything at all that your neighbor has lost and you have found: “Thus you shall do with his donkey, and you shall do the same with his garment, and you shall do likewise with anything lost by your countryman, which he has lost and you have found. You are not allowed to neglect them” (Deuteronomy 22:3). This was not just something special the people were to do if they were feeling particularly generous, but it was the behavior which God expected.
Yeshua’s command to treat others the same way we would like to be treated has become what is called the Golden Rule. In practice, we sometimes would prefer the negative of this phrase: “Do not do unto others what you wouldn’t want them to do to you.” When we practice the commandment in this way, there is no special responsibility upon us except to stand out of the way of our neighbor and not get on their nerves or cause them any grievous harm. On the other hand, the true command which is to do unto our neighbor what we would want them to do to us implies a greater force of action. Instead of just staying out of our neighbor’s life, we are called to involve ourselves in their life and sacrifice our own desires in order that they may be blessed. While it would be easier to just ignore their straying animal, we are to love them by doing what we would want them to do to us. Even when it costs us greatly and requires us to change our own lives, this is the way which God desires us to show love.
Yeshua illustrates this same lesson when He speaks of the judgment of the sheep and the goats. “Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.’ … The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me'” (Matthew 25:34-36, 40). If God has commanded that we are supposed to take care of our neighbor if he has lost an animal, how much more are we to take care of our neighbor’s own physical needs when he is not able to provide for himself.
Treating others the way we want to be treated involves more than just being polite to people who we don’t particularly like. It requires an involvement and an eagerness to sacrifice ourself for the sake of others: “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). Let us not stand idly by in the shadows waiting for the opportunity to show love to come our way, but let us meet our neighbor and show him love in the same way which God has shown to us.