Returning Lost Objects – Deuteronomy 22:1

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Walking down the street, you find something. An iPod, a wallet, a lost cat. Finders keepers? Or should you leave it and walk on?

Neither.

“Do not see your brother’s ox or sheep straying and ignore them; return them . . .” (Deuteronomy 22:1)

Does it have a name on it? Or any distinctive feature?

The iPod can be identified based on the songs stored on it, or even the serial number (if the owner is really organized). And the wallet’s owner can probably be traced through its contents.

So take it home and try to locate its owner. Post signs on bulletin boards; announce the find in local synagogues. Don’t give any specifics. Just say that you found a watch, not the color or name brand. If someone identifies it, you return it.

Post signs on bulletin boards; announce the find in local synagogues

As long as the object is in your possession, keep it safe. Put jewelry in a safe, fold clothing and put it away, keep the bicycle in a dry garage. And it’s not yours to use! Use it only if necessary for the object’s maintenance. So drive that motorcycle around the block every few weeks to keep the motor healthy, but no joyrides.

Exceptions:

  • “Finders keepers” applies to generic items that have no identifiable features. Examples: a $10 bill floating in the wind, a pen, a bag of chips (if presumably the owner despaired of retrieving the object before you came across it).
  • You can’t do one mitzvah by transgressing another one. So don’t pick up that wallet on Shabbat.
  • Items that are virtually worthless need not be returned.

Also:

Help your fellow before he loses his property. If you see your fellow’s property in danger, save it. If a flood is coming, lay down sandbags. If the wind is about to knock a branch onto her car, ring her bell and tell her to move it.

Illustrations by Yehuda Lang