In the past weeks we introduced the Mitzva (commandment) of returning our lost objects. In order to know how to fulfill this Mitzva properly one must first be able to discern whether an object is in fact lost or has merely been deliberately left in a certain place.
There main factor in deciding this is the location of the item: 1.If it was found in a safe, protected place then it is not considered lost, because the likelihood is that its owner deliberately placed it there and plans to return at some point and reclaim it. In such a circumstance, one may not take the item even with the intention of returning it to its owner. If one did pick it up, then he must immediately return it to its exact location so that when the owner returns he will be able to find it. If however, one took it home then he may not return it to its place because we are concerned that the owner went there in the interim and found it missing. In this instance, the finder must try to return it to its owner.
An example of this is if someone found a set of keys under a mat, it is assumed that the owner hid it there, therefore one must not take the set. One exception to this is if the item appears to have been lost for a long time (in the case of keys, because they appear very rusty) then we presume that the owner has forgotten about it and the finder can keep it for himself.
2. If it was found in an open, unprotected place, it is presumed to be a lost item, because no-one would deliberately leave it in such an unsafe place. For example, if a book was found on a bench in a public bus station, we can assume that the owner inadvertently left it there.
3. On occasion, an item may be found in a semi-safe place, where it is not totally protected but it is also not completely open. Since this is in a semi-secure place one cannot be sure whether the owner deliberately placed it there or inadvertently left it there. In such a situation, one should treat it as a lost item on condition that it has a simun (identifying mark) and the owner will still be able to retrieve it by identifying it. However, if it does not have a simun then one must leave it. An example of this is a sweater that was found draped over a railing in a remote area of a park – this is an unprotected place, however since few people pass by there, the owner may have deliberately placed it there with the intention of returning for it. If it has a simun then one must pick it up and try to locate its owner . As well as a name tag or distinguishing feature, the location of an item can constitute a simun. Therefore in this case, one should pick up the sweater because the owner could identify it through its unusual location.
. It is important to note that there are numerous details pertaining to this Mitzva and that one can only observe its laws properly until all of its laws are discussed – this will take a number of weeks, therefore one should not apply these laws to practical situations until discussion of the Mitzva is completed.
. We will discuss in future weeks how one should go about doing this.
Text Copyright © 2009 by Rabbi Yehonasan Gefen and Torah.org