My daughter just learned about the mitzvah of hashavat aveidah, returning lost objects to their owner. She is very excited, and I too think the concept is so beautiful, especially in today’s times, when people feel so much entitlement.
In her enthusiasm, my daughter is going overboard
The problem is that in her enthusiasm, my daughter is going overboard in trying to execute this mitzvah. Here are the circumstances we’re facing:
- In the park next to her school, my daughter found a child’s lone glove. She’s insisting that we take it home and post signs to publicize it so that the owner might retrieve it. The glove is quite worn and in poor condition, and I doubt that anyone will fret about the loss. I also insisted that we leave it exactly where it was, because in all likelihood, if the owner does search for it, he or she will come to the location where it was lost. Who is right?
- Our cousins, who live in another country, recently came to visit. Now that they have returned to their home and I’m getting our house back in order, we’re finding all sorts of things that they left behind, like single socks, small hair clips, half-used bottles of moisturizing cream, scribbled drawings and small craft projects. Do we need to mail these things back to them? Are we obligated to pay the cost of postage? What if they won’t even need or use most of it?
I really want to help my daughter do what’s right. Please give me some guidelines about the parameters of this special law.
The mitzvah of hashavat aveidah, returning a lost a object, is indeed a very important mitzvah. Not only are we obligated to try and return a lost object, we are also prohibited from simply ignoring the object and leaving it lying on the ground.
But, before getting into how far a person is obligated to go to return an object, we first need to outline which objects one is required to pick up and return to their rightful owner.
In general, the object needs to have at least the minimum value of a perutah (a Talmudic-era coin), both at the time of its being lost as well as when it is found, in order for one to be obligated to return it. Today, a perutah is equivalent toThe object needs to have at least the minimum value of a perutah
about two cents.
When deciding whether something has the value of a perutah, we calculate based on how much the owner would value it. Therefore, if something is worthless by itself (like a single shoe or glove) but has significant value for the owner who has the other half of the pair, one would be obligated to return it.
However, if the item appears to have been left at the spot for a very long time, we assume that the owner gave up hope of finding it, and one is not obligated to return it. In this case, if the glove appears to have been left outside for a very long time, you are not obligated to pick it up and return it.
Practically speaking, this means that one is required to try and return items like the single glove or your cousins’ expensive moisturizing creams, but not the scribbled drawings or hair clip (assuming it’s a cheap clip).
As for leaving the object where you found it, that is done only either (a) in a situation in which you aren’t obligated to return it, or (b) when there are no identifying markings, it looks like it was intentionally placed there, and it is in a secure area.
Having said that, the question now is: how much effort must you exert in returning the lost object to the owner, and what do you do if you can’t find the owner?
In general, all one is obligated to do is inform the owner that you have found his or her lost object. But you are not required to spend any of your own money to return the lost You are not required to spend any of your own moneyobject unless you know for sure that you will be paid back.
In light of this, with regard to the glove, all you are required to do is hang up signs in places like the school and synagogue, which many people in the neighborhood frequent. You are not obligated to spend money on any advertisements. Furthermore, if by busying yourself in trying to find the owner, you will have to take off some time from work (i.e. you will not be making the money you normally would have at that time), then that too is considered an expense that—although laudatory—you are not obligated to make.
As for the items your cousins left in your house, the simplest solution would be to contact them and find out if they want the items returned, and if they would be willing to pay for postage. If for whatever reason they cannot be reached by phone, mail, e‑mails, etc., then you are not required to ship the items to them unless you know for sure that you will be reimbursed.
If a long time has passed since you publicized your find and no one has come forward to claim the object, you are permitted to use the object, provided that you evaluate how much it is worth and write down all identifying features. That way, if anyone ever comes forward, you will be able to return it.
You can be extremely proud and encouraging of your daughter. In an age when people are busy thinking more about themselves, she has learned and taken to heart the importance of helping others.