Among the chassidic Rebbes who survived the Holocaust was a spiritual giant who had tragically lost his entire family, with the exception of one granddaughter. When she came of age, the Satmar Rebbetzin, Rebbetzin Alte Feige, a”h, successfully suggested a match: a young bachur who was already a respected talmid chacham from a wonderful family.
But the young kallah, traumatized by the horrors of war, suddenly broke off the engagement and disappeared. Her devastated grandfather discovered that she had fled the country, and was told that she ended up on a non-religious kibbutz. Believing that his granddaughter had abandoned Yiddishkeit, he lost all contact with her.
Sometime later, the Satmar Rebbe, zy”a, sat shivah for his third daughter (from his previous marriage) — his last surviving child. Among the many who came to be menachem avel was this Rebbe. The Satmar Rebbe, speaking of this terrible tragedy that had befallen him, painfully declared, “Es iz fun mir gornisht gebliben — There is nothing left from me.” The visiting Rebbe responded that he too was not leaving any descendants.
“No,” the Satmar Rebbe disagreed. “From you there is left [a surviving descendant]” — referring to the granddaughter who had run away.
“Dos heist nischt gebliben — This is not considered leaving over,” the Rebbe demurred, apparently convinced that his granddaughter’s break with her heritage was final.
“Dos heist yo gebliben — This is considered leaving over [descendants],” the Satmar Rebbe insisted.
The conversation soon turned to other matters. When the visiting Rebbe rose to leave, the Satmar Rebbe turned to him and firmly declared: “Gedenk, Rebbe, dos heist gebliben. …” Years passed and this great tzaddik was niftar, without ever learning the fate of his granddaughter.
In the late 1980s, a prominent chassidic Rebbe, shlita, visited Lakewood. Among those who came to seek his brachah was a yungerman and his children. It was clear from his appearance that he was a ben Torah. During his conversation with the Rebbe’s gabbai he revealed that his wife was a great-granddaughter of that very Rebbe who had been menachem avel the Satmar Rebbe. …
Indeed, it is considered leaving over!
The Torah teaches us this week the mitzvah of hashavas aveidah, returning a lost item to its owner. “When you encounter an ox of your enemy or a donkey wandering, you shall surely return it to him.”
The meforshim teach us that this also refers to lost Jewish souls, who have tragically become estranged from a life of Torah and mitzvos and cut off from their glorious heritage. All of us have a duty and obligation to do all we can to help “return” these neshamos.
Hagaon Harav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, zt”l, once pointed out that when the Beis Hamikdash stood, and Klal Yisrael was oleh regel three times a year — Pesach, Sukkos and Shavuos — there was special place in Yerushalayim where announcements regarding lost items were made. Chazal teach us that after the Churban Beis Hamikdash, these announcements were made in batei knesses and batei medrash.
“We too must ‘make announcements’ for these lost neshamos in batei knesses and batei medrash,” Rav Elyashiv declared.
Chazal (Makkos 24a) relate an exchange between two great Amora’im. Rav said that he feared the passuk in Parashas Bechukosai which states “You will become lost among the nations,” to which Rav Papa responded, “Perhaps [the word ‘lost’ is] like a lost item that is being sought, as in (Tehillim 119:176) ‘I have strayed as a lost lamb — seek Your servant.’”
Harav Elyashiv has a very powerful an explanation of this exchange.
There are different types of lost items. One can lose a wallet full of money, for instance. The owner searches for his lost wallet, but the wallet does not search for its owner. A lost sheep, on the other hand, in addition to being sought also seeks on his part to be reunited with his owner.
Rav knew that when Am Yisrael would be lost among the nations, Hashem would certainly “seek” us, so to speak. But he feared that we would not seek Hashem. Therefore Rav Papa reassured him: We will be like a lost sheep who anxiously searches for the way back and pleads to be brought back home.
In the depths of his heart, every Yid, regardless show far he has fallen, yearns to “come home.”
It is never too late for him to do so.