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A Way to Return
by Rabbi Paysach Krohn

One Friday morning, Mr. Josh Braunstein of Brooklyn was driving to Manhattan through the Battery Tunnel when he remembered that he had to make an important phone call. He knew there was a phone booth at the corner of West Street near the mouth of the tunnel since he had used that booth before; and so as he exited the tunnel, he drove to that particular corner, stopped his car alongside the phone booth, and entered to make the call.

Before he had even lifted the handset, he noticed a thick office-planner book bulging with papers and notes, resting on top of the phone. Obviously someone had forgotten it there. Josh's first impulse was to leave it there and not get involved with the hassle of locating the owner, but he has been a "baal korei" (someone who reads aloud from the Torah in synagogue) for 30 years and the next morning he would be reading the portion which contains not only the commandment to return a lost item, but also the negative commandment forbidding a Jew to ignore such an item if he finds it (see Deuteronomy 22:1-4).

He examined the planner and looked for the owner's name and address. There was none. He flipped through the pages in the book and saw that there were addresses and phone numbers of people from San Francisco to Boston. Among them were those of two rabbis in Brooklyn, one of them the noted adjucator Rabbi David Cohen, which led Josh to assume that the owner was not only Jewish but probably observant. Seeing the countless entries of business meetings, appointments, and reminders strewn all over every page, Josh could imagine the owner's frustration at having carelessly lost this "portable office."

Josh made his call and took the office-planner with him to his office. Once there, he opened the diary to the page for that particular day, August 19, hoping to find the phone numbers of people the owner might be meeting that day. It was to no avail. There were no numbers, only names, none of which Josh recognized. Josh imagined that he might well keep this planner book for years without finding the owner.

When Josh came home that Friday afternoon, he showed the book to his wife and asked if she had any suggestions. Mrs. Braunstein leafed through the book trying to find a clue, but no name or address seemed familiar. After Shabbos, she picked up the book again, turned to the inside of the back cover and noticed a listing for "Mom" with an area code of 305. It was a number in Florida.

"It makes sense," said Josh. "Another Jewish grandmother in Miami."

Mrs. Braunstein dialed the Florida number and told the lady who answered the phone what her husband had found in a phone booth in Manhattan. After giving a brief description, Mrs. Braunstein said, "We are observant Jews, and it is a mitzvah to return a lost item. Tonight we found your number. Do you have a child who may have lost this?"

"It sounds like it might be my daughter's," said the lady from Florida.

After giving her daughter's name and number to Mrs. Braunstein, the two women chatted amiably, long distance, for close to half an hour.

On Sunday morning a young woman came to the Braunstein home, identified herself, and thanked them profusely for making the effort to find her. "I was lost without that book," she said. The next Friday she came back with a huge bouquet of flowers with a note attached. She explained the reason for the gift.

"Five years ago," she began, "I returned to Judaism. My mother found it difficult to accept my new life, and the relationship between us became strained. When you called her long distance and explained all you were doing to try and locate me, she was overwhelmed. She called me and said, 'If this is the type of people you are trying to be like, then I understand now where you are coming from and why you want to be that way.' All week long she has been telling her non-religious friends about you, and we are speaking more often and with more warmth then we have in years!"

Reprinted with permission from InnerNet Magazine

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