Lost and Found in the Holy Land
Yesterday was shaping up into one of those days for me.
While walking through the center of Jerusalem on my way to work, I lost my cell phone. Unfortunately, I didn't realize until lunchtime, over three hours later, that it had gone missing, and by the time I retraced my steps my cell phone was nowhere to be found.
Having deemed any additional efforts to find my cell phone as being futile, I headed to the "Orange" store on Ben Yehuda.
When I arrived at the "Orange" store, I asked the girl behind the counter how she was doing, and proceeded to tell her what happened. She started laughing, surprised that I would be in such a good mood, considering that I had just lost my cell phone. I told her that that should be my biggest problem in life... I then asked her how often cell phones that are lost get returned. She responded that it almost never happens.
I proceeded to disconnect my phone line, and was advised to wait 24 hours, "just in case", before getting a new phone
Upon leaving the "Orange" store I was a little disappointed. Not so much that I had lost my cell phone, but that in the Jewish State, I would have expected that it would be the exception, rather than the rule for an effort not to be made to try and return a lost object to its rightful owner. After all, hashavat aveida - the obligation to return a lost object - is such a basic principle of Judaism; one which receives a disproportionate amount of attention within Jewish Law for something that might otherwise seem to be so inconsequential.
Sure enough, my faith in the Jewish People was not misplaced. Lo and behold, my wife received a phone call later in the day from "Orange" informing her that someone had in fact found my phone and wanted to return it.
I got in touch with this individual, and it turned out that he was a police officer working at the National Police Headquarters in Jerusalem.
I met the police officer, Udi, this morning. As 1st impressions go, he seems like a real nice guy - a mensch. All he asked was that I write him a letter of commendation that would be given to his commanding officer and put in his file. I was more than happy to oblige, and I also gave him a bottle of wine.
When I returned to the "Orange" store to have my service reconnected they were all shocked that someone had actually returned my phone to me, reiterating to me that "it's just not done in Israel".
Perhaps "Orange" needs to place a little more faith in the Jewish People, and perhaps the rest of us can learn to be a little bit more like Udi.
On that note, I came across the following related story:
Samuel Bar Sosrati was called an ox, a sheep, and an ass; Called an ox by his boss who fired him, because he was stubborn; Called a sheep by the crowd, whom he mindlessly followed, until the winds of fashion shifted and they turned their back on him; And called an ass for being so stupid as to lose both his job on account of his stubbornness and his friends on account of his lack of principle, by his wife who left him to go live on a kibbutz and rebuild the homeland.
Samuel Bar Sosrati tried to reconcile himself to the situation. He left town, destitute and forlorn, humming the tune to the Passover Haggada: “Arami oved avi”, ‘My father was a wandering Aramean.’
By and by he came to a forest, through which he walked for many days until he finally saw another human being.
“Excuse me,” said the other running up to him, “Ibaditi et haderech--I’ve lost my way in this forest! Do you know the way get back out?” “No I do not,” said Samuel Bar Sosrati, “But I do know that the way I have come will not take you out of the forest, and if we walk together also avoiding the wrong ways you have taken, perhaps we shall find the right way out.”
Together, they did in fact manage to return to a road that led out of the forest. Now at this time, it really was true that all roads lead to Rome, so Samuel Bar Sosrati went there. What he didn’t know though, was that the great city was in an uproar: The empress had lost her precious gems which she wore on a necklace over her heart.
Sure enough, Samuel Bar Sosrati found them along his way. Citing the conventional wisdom “finders keepers, losers weepers” he picked up the gems and took them with him to the city. No sooner had he arrived when horses galloped through the Arch of Titus where he stood. The delegation of guards stopped and blew their trumpets, unrolled a royal proclamation and announced:
“He who returns the empress’ gems within 10 days will receive such-and-such a reward. If after ten days, he’ll lose his head on the chopping block. If he’s a Jew, we’ll kill him twice.”
This certainly put a new perspective on “finders keepers, losers weepers!” So, Samuel Bar Sosrati rented a room and had a good think about the situation.
He recalled a day in the first or second grade at Shorashim Sunday school. The teacher was discussing the mitzvah of hashavat aveida, returning what is lost. He could remember the precise wording of the Torah which his teacher had read: “If you should see your brother’s ox or sheep gone astray, don’t ignore it. You must return it to your fellow… and the same goes for his donkey, his garment—anything that your fellow loses and you find: you must not remain indifferent.”
Now Samuel Bar Sosrati got to thinking about all the other aspects of this mitzvah hashavat aveida returning what is lost, which he had learned over the years: One who finds something without trying to return it is considered a thief. One must take care of the found animal or object—even at her own expense--until the owner is notified. You must not wait for the owner to come to you, you have to publicize the found object, and verify that the claimant is the rightful owner.
He chuckled when he recalled the case of Rabbi Jeremiah who brought a pigeon to the beit midrash, the house of study. According to the law, a pigeon found within fifty cubits of a dovecote must be returned to the owner of the dovecote, but a pigeon found more than 50 cubits from a dovecote is considered a wild pigeon and may be kept by the finder. Rabbi Jeremiah claimed that this pigeon was found with one foot standing within 50 cubits and one foot standing beyond 50 cubits: what should he do? They threw him and his bird out of the beit midrash!!
But these gems were not pigeons. Samuel Bar Sosrati still couldn’t decide what to do. The he remembered the teaching of the sage Bachya. At first, in Exodus chapter 23, the Torah legislates that you must return a lost animal to your enemy, then in Deuteronomy chapter 34 (we know already) it says you must return it to your brother, your fellow. Why the change in wording from enemy to fellow? Well, says Bachya, when you show the kindness of returning the lost thing, your enemy ceases to be your enemy and becomes your brother, your fellow. Returning the lost object is an opportunity to change and grow to start anew.
Samuel Bar Sosrati began to think about his situation as an opportunity. With any opportunity comes risk. Mumbling the words of resolve Queen Esther used when she took her fate and the fate of the Jewish People into her own hands, he decided to wait it out: ve-kha-asher avadeti avadeti “If I perish, I perish,”
On the eleventh day, he went to the palace and returned the gems. The empress called him in before her throne:
“Were you not in the city all this time?”
“I was,” he said.
“Did you not hear the proclamation?” She asked.
“I heard it,” he answered.
“Then why didn’t you return my gems within the ten days?!”
“So that you shouldn’t say I returned them out of fear of you or for reward. I returned them because it was the right thing to do, I returned them in order to seize for myself the opportunity to change my life, correct my past mistakes, recover what I’ve lost. Performing the mitzvah of hashavat aveida has been the reward itself.”
The empress congratulated him, “Blessed be the God of the Jews.”