Ki Tetzei(Deuteronomy 21:10-25:19)
What should we do if we find something that's not ours? Though it might be tempting to pocket it, especially if no one else would ever know, this week's Torah portion (22: 1-3) tells us that we should make the effort to find the owner and return it. "Finder's keepers, loser's weepers" is not the Torah way.
In our story, a kid has to decide whether finding means keeping.
Barry and Jack were roughhousing their way home from school as usual, enjoying the cool, sunny walk, when suddenly Barry saw something glimmering under a bush along the side of the road.
Ducking down, he stuck his arm in and let out a squeal of joy, as he pulled out a gleaming, gold pocket watch.
"Wow, what a find!" he said, beaming like an angler who'd just hooked a prize fish. "Check it out. It says 'fourteen carat gold' and even has some fancy initials carved into it."
"M. K.?" asked Jack.
"Well ... yeah. But how did you know?" Barry asked, surprised.
"'Cuz that's what it says on the note taped up to this telephone pole over here, written by the guy who lost it. It has the guy's phone number, too. He's gonna be real happy when you call him and tell you found his watch."
"Forget it, man. I'm not calling anyone! This watch is now in the proud possession of - me." As if to emphasize the point, the boy stuffed the watch deep into his jacket pocket.
"Come on, Barry!" Jack gave him a playful shove. "That's not right. Some guy lost his fancy, expensive watch - the note here describes it perfectly - you've gotta give it back."
"No way! Finders keepers, losers weepers," Barry shot back with a shove of his own "Is it my fault some guy happened to have butter-fingers and dropped his watch?"
Suddenly, Barry's cell phone rang. He answered it, but it was a wrong number. As he went to put the phone back in his pocket, it slipped and fell to the ground. Jack bent down and picked it up. "Thanks, man," Barry said, with his hand out. But instead of handing him his phone, Jack pocketed it.
"Hah-hah. Funny joke. Now give me back my phone."
But Jack shook his head. "Uh, uh. You don't have a cell phone any more. This is my phone, now."
Barry lunged to try to get it, but the bigger, stronger Jack jumped back.
"Hey, I'm serious, Jack. Give it!"
"Why should I? You lost it - I found it. Is it my fault you had butter-fingers?"
Barry realized what his friend was driving at, but didn't want to buy it. "Come on. It's not the same at all."
"First of all, you know whose phone it is."
Jack just smirked and pointed to the note hanging up on the pole. "Barry, you know the watch is ... his."
"Second, it's a really expensive phone. My dad will kill me if..."
"I doubt it's worth more than a gold watch. Hmm ... who should I call first on my new phone? Alaska? ... China?"
Barry was turning red - not only because his buddy was teasing him, but because he was starting to make sense.
"And third of all..." Barry went on in a quiet voice, "I need to use the phone right now to make a very important call."
"Oh yeah, to who?"
"To ... um ... that number on the note over there. The guy must be going nuts hoping someone will find his watch and give it back."
Jack slapped his friend on the back and flipped him the phone.
"Now you're pushing the right button!"
Q. How did Barry feel when he first found the watch?
A. He felt like he was allowed to keep it, no matter what.
Q. How did he feel in the end?
A. That when someone loses something and you find it, the right thing to do is to give it back.
Q. What life lesson do you think Barry learned that day?
A. He'd felt that if someone lost something it was his tough luck and if you were fortunate enough to find it, it was rightfully yours. But Jack's fooling around and pocketing his phone, helped Barry realize that it hurts to lose something and how it's the right ethical choice to give back what you find.
Q. Is a person never allowed to keep something he or she finds?
A. It all depends on the details of the situation. The Talmud, or oral Torah, which God passed down through our sages, discusses these cases in fascinating detail and guides us concerning when it's fair and ethical to do what.
Ages 10 and Up
Q. What is exactly wrong about keeping something of someone else's that we find?
A. Dealing fairly and ethically with each other's property is one of the cornerstones that creates the kind of peaceful and positive society God wants us to have for our own good. On a deeper, spiritual level, a person's property is connected to his soul and is in some way needed for him to complete his task in life. If he loses something and we ethically return it to him, we are doing him and the world a great service and if we don't … the opposite.
Q. Our sages describe finding one's marriage partner as similar to finding something one has lost. What do you think this means?
A. Before each person was born they were together with their true marriage partner, or soul mate. Coming into this world, they became 'lost' from each other, living in different places, born at different times. By living a good, sincere life, they can 'find' each other and be together once again.