Returning Lost Objects
Mishpatim (Exodus 21-24 )
We all wish that the world was a more peaceful place and that people would get along better with each other. Is there anything we can do to make it happen? One thing we can do is to set an example of showing real concern for others. This week's Torah portion is full of ideas and practical guidelines of how to live more peacefully with the people around us. We can go out of our way to return things we find to the people who lost them. If we happen upon something that someone has lost, or misplaced, while it's good if we don't pocket it for ourselves, it isn't enough. The Torah asks us to make a real effort to identify the owner and return it to him. He will be grateful and realize that people really do care about him. The next time, he may do the same for someone else. By following these guidelines, we turn our personal environment, and the world, little by little, into a saner and more compassionate place.
In our story, two brothers go out of their way to show concern for someone.
"BREAKING THE ICE"
The recent snowfall made Sam Firestone and his brother Dave feel a little bit like Arctic explorers as they trudged their way down the path in the woods behind their home. The boys were on their way back from ice-skating on frozen Albert's Pond and looked forward to reaching their warm, cozy home.
The snow had transformed the trail into a magical world of white, with the crunch of the boys' boots the only thing breaking the pristine silence. Suddenly Dave noticed a strange looking orange bump sticking out of one of the snow banks.
"Hey, what's that?" he asked his brother, pointing.
They ran over to check it out, and discovered a brand new looking basketball. "Wow, what a find!" chirped Sam, excitedly.
But Dave was skeptical. "What's a basketball doing in the middle of the woods?" he asked. "Maybe it belongs to somebody."
Sure enough, upon closer investigation the boys noticed the initials W.K. printed neatly in marker. Dave looked up from the trail and put two and two together. "W.K., hmm... Wally Kreiger!" he exclaimed. "That's Wally's house right there above the trail. He must have lost this ball over the fence and it blended into the woods. The white snow made it stick out, and easy to find."
Sam grinned. Wally Kreiger was a nasty kid in the neighborhood who had more than once made trouble for the Firestone brothers. "Well, that's his tough luck, huh? Finder's keepers, losers weepers!"
But his older brother shook his head. "We can't keep this. That would be no better than stealing."
Sam, who knew better than to try to argue with his brother on matters of principle, shrugged his shoulders and said, "I guess you're right. Forget about the stupid ball, that's nasty Wally's problem. Let's get home already, I'm freezing."
He threw down the ball and started marching down the trail, but turned back when his brother didn't follow. Dave frowned. "Nope, we've gotta give the kid back his ball. Since we found it, its only right of us to return it."
The boys cut up a path from the trail that led to the Kreiger's yard. They rang the front doorbell. After a minute Wally opened up. "Whadya guys want?" he asked suspiciously.
Dave swallowed and held out the basketball. "We found this on the trail behind the house. Perhaps it belongs to you?"
The hard expression on Wally's face began to melt into an embarrassed smile. "Wow, thanks a lot!" he said. "It is mine. I lost it the day after I got it, right over the fence, and I never found it."
The brothers turned around and started home, but Wally called them back. "Er... you guys look cold. How about coming in for a few minutes to warm up? My mom just put up some nice, hot cocoa." The boys took Wally up on his offer and ended up staying the whole afternoon. The three of them had a great time together. Sam and Dave were glad that they had returned the ball, and realized that they had found much more than a basketball. They had found a new friend.
Q. How did Sam react when they first found the ball?
A. He wanted to keep it, or at least not bother returning it.
Q. How did the boys feel after they had retuned the basketball?
A. They knew they had done the right thing, and they saw how this act of kindness had helped to turn an enemy into a friend.
Q. Why do you think it is so important to be concerned with other people's things?
A. Showing concern about other people's property is an important way of showing concern for them. It is a tangible act of kindness that helps to build up peaceful relationships between people and can really improve our society.
Q. If somebody finds something and he's not sure to whom it belongs, what action can he take to get it back to the owner?
A. He can put up notes in the vicinity of where he found it announcing his find. He can report it to the police. He can ask around amongst the people he knows. He should try to notice any identifying marks on the item, so that if someone comes to claim it, he can ask him first to describe the item, to make sure the person is the one who really lost it.
Ages 10 and Up
Q. If the boys had turned a blind eye and just left the ball where it was, would there really have been anything wrong with that?
A. It would have tempting. After all it wouldn't be stealing, and it would have saved them a lot of effort. But they would have missed a great Mitzvah to help someone. They would also have missed an important opportunity to transform themselves into more giving and caring people, which is one of our main spiritual tasks in life.
Q. Why do you think that the boys who weren't so friendly with each other got along much better after they returned the basketball?
A. When the boys went out of their way to return the ball, they made a powerful gesture which made Wally feel that they liked and cared about him. It was only natural that he would start to feel warmer to them. When we interact with each other justly and with care, we are quietly but surely transforming the world into a better, more humane place.