Lost & Found
Updated: Sep 11, 2022
January 1991. I was on my gap year as part of a Bar Ilan Mechina program. The gulf war was on the verge of breaking out and people were really scared. Israelis were carrying around big clunky boxes with gas masks. Foreign students had not yet been issued any. There was palpable fear on the streets. My parents insisted I leave. On Friday, a friend and I booked Saturday night flights to London to stay with her uncle. When we returned to campus, we found it deserted.
It was the time before email and WhatsApp - we clearly didn’t get the memo that everyone was leaving. We went to look for the house parents; they were gone too. Even the security post was abandoned. Neither of us had family or friends in Israel.
It was almost shabbat. We left the radio on - not that we would have understood any announcements - and spent a terrifying shabbat alone on campus on the eve of war.
We spent that Shabbat together, sleeping in separate dorm rooms. At one point I was too scared to go back to my room so I purposely left some stuff on top of her closet. As soon as shabbat was out we left for London. The first scud missile fell that night and the airport was closed.
I returned after the war, decided to go to seminary instead and collected my belongings, including the bags I had left in my friend’s room. Weeks later I discovered a large wad of cash in my bag. I was a struggling student, at a loss of where this money had come from. A few weeks passed, and I decided I had somehow won the lottery. I started spending this money.
Fast forward, after a trip to Eilat and enjoying a lot more luxuries than I previously could afford I bumped into another friend and she told me that a girl Sandy had all her money stolen and she was completely out of money and had given up and was returning home. Later that night, it suddenly dawned on me what happened to Sandy’s money. She had been my friend on campus’s roommate. She must have hid her cash in the bags that my friend was storing for me and it was the lottery money I was spending.
Now I knew that if I was a good person I should return the cash - but I no longer had all the money. I had not yet learned that it’s in fact a mitzvah to return lost property.
Last week’s Torah portion discussed the ideal state from the perspective of government and leadership, this week’s portion, Ki Tetzei describes the importance of social relationships. In fact, there are 72 commandments that mostly discuss interpersonal, economic, and family relationships. Even things that might seem minor are not minor at all. One of those is the simple commandment of returning a lost object and being a restorer. The Torah asks us to make a real effort to identify the owner and return it.
We are challenged to do the right thing and not think in context. We should think more about our role as ‘one who restores’ as opposed to whom I am restoring the object. It is easy to be kind to friends. It is much harder to be kind to our enemies, perceived or real. It is harder to restore property to those who seem not to respect their own property.
Interestingly we also cannot turn our backs on people who are suffering and our role is to restore and not turn our backs on people. In fact, we live in a world full of losses that it’s often easier to pretend that we do not see.
Perhaps this week’s Torah portion could serve as a reminder to sensitize ourselves to others and be a restorer.
I did track down Sandy and with hard-earned babysitting and cleaning job money, I returned all the cash that I found. She remained in Israel, went to seminary, became religious, married, and lives with a very large family in Jerusalem to this day.