In Parhat Ki Tetze (Dvarim 22:1-3) we learn about the mitzvah of returning a lost object:
You may not observe your brother’s ox or his sheep lost and hide yourself from them; you must surely return them to your brother. But if your brother is not near you or you do not know him, gather it into your house and let it stay with you until your brother seeks it, when you must return it to him. And so are you to do for his donkey, and so are you to do for his garment, and so are you to do for any lost object of your brother’s that is lost from him which you find. You may not hide yourself.
What does the Torah mean by the “vehitalamta”, “hide yourself?”
Rashi explains the word “vehitalamta” to mean do not avert your eyes as if you did not notice it.
I have seen firsthand how this mitzvah can make a difference in people’s lives:
A few years ago, my husband, Josh was on a bus in Jerusalem and noticed a wallet lying on the floor. He picked it up and saw that it belonged to a student who attends a school near our home. He took the wallet and called the school for the contact information of the student. They made a time to meet and Josh returned the wallet. The student’s mother was so happy that she wrote a beautiful card and gave us a plant (totally unnecessary). She was shocked that anyone would go out of their way to return a wallet with money in it.
Last year, when a group of family members visited for my son Moshe’s Bar Mitzvah, we went on a TaNaCh Tiyul which began at the Begin Center. We sat outside waiting for the tour to start and when we went inside we did not notice that one of the family members left his TaNaCh and water bottle in a bag outside. When we got to the part where we had to read the Biblical passages from the TaNaCh, we noticed that the TaNaCh was missing. I quicly ran outside to bring it in but it was already gone. I felt bad that we lost a good TaNaCh but there was nothing that I could do.
A few days later, I received a phone call from a stranger who said that he was walking by the Begin Museum and saw a bag with a TaNaCh in it. He found our phone number inside of the TaNaCh. He asked if it belonged to us. He told me that he had it with him at work in the Old City and I went to pick it up. Everything was there, including the water bottle! I was so happy that the TaNaCh was not lost after all.
We see from these incidents that people in Jerusalem take the mitzvah of returning a lost object seriously, no matter what the value of the object and both the person who lost the property and the person who found it are happy when the mission is accomplished.
May we hold tightly onto our possessions but if they do get lost, let’s hope that other will take the mitzvah seriously and help return the objects to their rightful owners.