A lesson from a wallet

Most of my learning from Jehiel has been informal, around the dinner table rather than in the classroom.  Only once did I have an actual course with Jehiel, as far as I recall.  I believe it must have been while I was in Central Hebrew High School, which would have been in the late 1960’s, and it was a course in Mishnah.  I remember coming into the classroom for the first class with some of the other students.  Jehiel was a little late coming in.  As the students were settling in around the table, one of them picked up a wallet from the floor.  The wallet had a $50 bill in it, as well as a black-and-white photo of a baby, but no other identification.  I remember spending some time scrutinizing the photo for any resemblance to anyone I knew, but I could not make a positive ID.  Then Jehiel came in.  We spent the next hour discussing what rights and responsibilities we might have with respect to the wallet, what the Rabbis said about hashavat aveda (return of lost property) and how we might go about making an ethical decision about what to do with it. 

I have never forgotten that lesson.  A few years ago, my daughter Molly found a wad of cash in a lake on Cape Cod where she was swimming.  I told her that return of lost property was an important law in the Torah, and I was very proud when she then went around to everyone on the beach to ask if they had lost some cash.  When no one claimed it, she gave a substantial portion of it to tzedaka.  I consider that that tzedaka was to Jehiel’s credit.

By: Nikki Pusin

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