Rabbi Levy Wineberg
I will take you to be My People, and I will be your G-d. And you shall know that I, Hashem, am your G-d who takes you out from the servitude of Egypt.
וְלָקַחְתִּי אֶתְכֶם לִי לְעָם וְהָיִיתִי לָכֶם לֵאלֹקִים וִידַעְתֶּם כִּי אֲנִי ה' אֱלֹקֵיכֶם הַמּוֹצִיא אֶתְכֶם מִתַּחַת סִבְלוֹת מִצְרָיִם.
Hashavas Aveida – Claiming a lost article
The Torah teaches in Parshas Ki Tetze1 that one should not ignore an article that one finds, but should keep it, look after it, and even feed it (in the case of an animal) until it is claimed by its owner.
How does the owner identify the object, and how does the finder know that the claimant is indeed the owner? The Mishna2 derives from the wording of the possuk that the claimant must support his claim by providing signs or distinguishing marks of the found article. For example, if the finder announces that he found a hand-made garment, then the owner might describe the design or colour.
If a trustworthy person (e.g. a talmid chochom) comes to claim the object he need only say that he recognizes it, although he cannot identify any features of the object. The gemora and poskim classify these two types of claim as simanim and tvias ayin.3 Simanim are distinguishing marks and tvias ayin (literally, “embedded in the eye”) is recognition.
Of these two, tviays ayin is definitely the preferable identification. All the rules of testimony rest on it. When witnesses testify that a particular person committed a crime or engaged in a transaction, they don’t say, “someone with blue eyes and brown hair did this”, but rather, “we recognise this person as the one who did it”. The flaw in tvias ayin is that it is a less provable type of identification. Simanim on the other hand establish the claimant’s credibility. Where one’s credibility is not in doubt to begin with, as in the case of witnesses or a talmid chochom, we rely on tviyas ayin.
A further difference between the two: Simanim can be relayed to another, tviyas ayin is unique to a person who actually recognises the object or person.
When Hashem created the world, He was very visible in it. Ever since creation he is like a “lost object”. How do we “find” Him? - Through the very same methods of simanim and tviyas ayin.
In the grandeur of nature, one can see signs of Hashem’s presence. Indeed, this is how Avraham Avinu came to recognize Hashem. When he saw the sun rise in the east and set in the west, Avraham concluded, “Surely someone must be in charge of this great mansion”.4 This is an indirect type of identification. One doesn’t really know Hashem through natural signs; one only knows about Him, that He must be there and that He must be great and wise.
But ever since Hashem showed Himself “face to face” to us at Sinai, we recognize Hashem. We can identify Hashem, particularly in His Torah and His commandments. And ever since Sinai, recognizing Hashem through the workings of nature is a step-down for a Jew.
This superior way of knowing Hashem - through “recognition” as opposed to merely through natural “signs”- is what the Exodus from Egypt and the revelation at Sinai accomplished. It is why Hashem foretold to Moshe “now I will take you out of Egypt and you will KNOW that I am G-d”,5 unlike “the patriarchs (who) did not KNOW My true essence”.6 This prophecy is also an instruction and an empowerment, “Know Hashem your G-d”.7
1) Reflect: How can we get to this type of “knowing”? What difference will it make in our Avodas Hashem?
2) See Pirkei Avot, Ch. 3, Mishna 7: “…Rabbi Yaakov said: One who walks….”. How do you now understand Rabbi Yaakov’s statement in light of what we have learned about simanim and tvias ayin?
פלח הרמון ד"ה איתא בפסיקתא יהל אור להצ"צ- תהלים קיט:קעו
Bava Metzia 2:7
Talmud, Bava Metzia 23b
Midrash, Bereishis Rabbah 39:1