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Parshas Mishpatim

by Rabbi Yaakov Menken

"If you encounter your enemy's ox or donkey going astray, you shall surely bring it back to him." [Ex. 23:4]

By now, I am convinced that I have received the same e-mail over ten times. This is more frequently than I have been told that Bill Gates will give me lots of money if I will only forward the enclosed message to all of my friends, or warned that the Microsoft Debugger Registrar for Java (jdbgmgr.exe) is a dangerous virus. Admittedly, this is not nearly as often as I have been promised untold millions if I will merely transfer a few thousand dollars to a Nigerian bank, but it should still rate as a leading email annoyance of the past week.

It doesn't. In fact, every additional copy I received only adds to my delight.

The message comes from a fellow Baltimorean, Micah Males, who was driving home from a family trip at this time last week. The Males family stopped at a rest area, and noticed a visibly-Orthodox woman with covered hair enter the building. A moment later she hurried back to her car, and her kippah-clad husband went to take his turn -- most probably because they had a child or children asleep in their vehicle.

Meanwhile, our protagonist and his wife went into the building themselves, where Mrs. Males and another woman discovered a stunning diamond ring lying next to the sinks in the rest room. They turned this unbelievable prize over to the lost and found, and when the Males family returned to their car they discussed what she had found. Soon, they realized that few people would ever remove a diamond ring in a rest room -- except for an Orthodox woman washing her hands in preparation for eating bread. And who would forget her ring, except for a woman rushing back to her husband and child outside in the car?

Despite the speed with which they came to this realization, it was not before the other couple had driven off, sans ring. So when they got home, Micah fired off an email, hoping to find the owner.

And this is the email which I have now received so many times. It has taken on a life of its own, with literally thousands of copies in circulation. According to Micah, it is "being circulated to school and synagogue distribution lists, announced from the pulpit on Shabbos, and becoming a hot topic of conversation at social gatherings."

Have you ever seen such a thing? Is there any other society in the world where the discovery of a lost object, whose owner cannot be identified, would prompt an e-mail to friends -- and instantly become a communal cause celebre?

No. Nowhere else. At this point, the rest stop management thinks Micah may be just slightly insane, after one recipient of the email suggested viewing the surveillance film and attempting to read the license plate of the car. "Here I was," he writes, "knowing about the ring in detail, but yet denying ownership. I did not know the true owner, but only had a hunch that it might be someone whom I didn't know. If we could only discover a license plate."

To someone raised on "finders keepers, losers weepers," Micah's behavior is incomprehensible. So much time, so much concern, so much effort -- all for some unidentified traveller whom he has never met? And this firestorm of emails? It's not normal! "Normal" is, as you'll learn from this week's feature article, for the wealthy clientele of high-class eateries to walk off with the silverware. Not normal is to try to reach one who lost a ring as if she were a long-lost friend.

Indeed. It's not normal. "Mi ke'amcha Yisrael, goy echad ba'aretz?" Who is like your people Israel, one nation on the earth? Only one nation on earth would behave like that.

Admittedly, I have been infected. I have an "ulterior motive" behind my topic this week: the owner still hasn't been found, and perhaps you may know the person we're looking for. Or perhaps one of your friends does... if you'll only pass on this message. It's a Mitzvah!

If you have any word for us, please email

Good Shabbos,

Rabbi Yaakov Menken



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