By Rabbi Yair Hoffman

First of all, let’s start with the free money.

The IRS has started sending notices reminding Americans who have not yet filed their tax returns this year that they could be eligible for $1,400 stimulus checks—or even $2,800 checks for married couples—if they file a 2021 tax return and haven’t received their 3rd installment. So do it.

Now let’s get to some hashavas aveidah rulings:

1. For the mitzvah of hashavas aveidah to apply, the item must be worth a prutah (CM 262:1). If it is worth less than a prutah to the finder, but more to the one who lost it, such as a driver’s license, there is still a mitzvah. Rav Elyashiv, zt’l, ruled that most people view a pen as nearly worthless and therefore, they are considered as less than a shaveh prutah and there is no need to be machriz and announce that it was lost. (Kuntrus HaShavas Aveidah p.31).

2. If you find a lost object and keep it, you violate three Torah mitzvos—two negative commandments and one positive one. If you just ignore your obligation to return something, you just violate one negative mitzvah.

3. Men and women are equally obligated in this mitzvah, but older people are exempt if it is embarrassing.

4. Objects that are clearly abandoned, such as something found lying in the street, do not have to be returned.

5. The mitzvah of hashavas aveidah applies only as long as the owner did not give up hope of finding the item. Giving up hope is called yei’ush. The owner gives up ownership at the point of yei’ush. If, however, you found the item before the owner gave up hope, then there is an obligation to return it (CM 262:3). There is a debate in the Rishonim as to why this is so. Tosfos (BK 66a) understands that the obligation of returning the item has already kicked in and must still be fulfilled even if there is loss of hope. The Ramban (BK 26b), on the other hand, explains that the picking up of the lost item renders the finder a guardian over the item.

6. There is a concept in halacha that a person is always checking his pockets. Therefore, if the item is very important and had no identifiable marks, we can assume that he gave up hope. What are identifiable marks (called simanim in halacha)? A] Unique marks found on the object itself. B] If the owner identifies where the object was lost and it is rare to lose such items there (CM 262:9) C] If the owner identifies how the object was packaged (CM 262:35) D] If the owner identifies how many of the item was lost (CM 262:3) E] If the owner identifies the specific weight or size of the object. Money, however, is not considered to have identifying marks (CM 262:3).

7. Likewise, we can assume that an owner gave up hope on a very heavy item or a large item when there are no simanim—identifiable marks. Likewise, if it was lost in flowing river waters, we can assume that the owner lost hope in recovering it (CM 259).

8. It is proper to return all lost items in order to make a Kiddush Hashem—to sanctify Hashem’s Name—Kiddush Hashem. There is a full-fledged obligation to return items that one is technically exempt from returning if not doing so may possibly result in a Chillul Hashem (CM 266:1). Thus all bank errors must be returned as soon as possible.

Is Telling People About The Stimulus Considered Hashavas Aveidah?

Technically, informing people about money that they could get is not considered hashavas aveidah. It is, however, considered being chas al mammon Yisrael—concerned for the money of others—and may be a fulfillment of a Torah commandment of loving thy neighbor as yourself.

The Gemara in Moed Katan 27b tells us that when Jews were burying their dead in the finest clothing, Rabban Gamliel HaZakain arose and declared that enough was enough. The rising pressures, the “keeping up with the Joneses” in how to dress the deceased, was causing enormous economic pressure on the living. “It must stop,” declared the rabbi, and the tachrichim, burial shrouds, we now use became the norm.

Boycotting Fish

The great Tzemach Tzedek (of 17th century Poland), cited by the Magen Avraham in the beginning of hilchos Shabbos, once ruled (responsa #28) that when local fishermen collude and raise the price of fish excessively, a prohibition can be levied upon the consumption of fish on Shabbos. It may take a week or two or even three, but eventually the collective buying power of ordinary people would force the price back down.

Obligation Upon Everyone

We will see, however, that it is not just great Torah leaders who have saved and are concerned for the financial well-being of their fellow Jews. It seems that this is what is expected by the Torah of everyone.

The Gemara (Menachos 76a) tells us that Hashem commanded Moshe to also feed the nation’s livestock from the water that He had caused to emanate from the rock at Mei Merivah. Also, Rashi (Rosh Hashanah 27a) points out that the Kohein first removes the vessels from the house before declaring a house impure. So we see examples of the Torah being concerned with the financial well-being of the Jewish nation.

For The Public And For Private Individuals

The difference between the two cases is that the former is for the entire nation, while the latter demonstrates that the Torah is concerned even for the individual’s finances.

Social Norm And Torah Obligation

The Chasam Sofer on Bava Basra (54b) states that, generally speaking, one can make the assumption that fellow Jews are concerned with the monetary well-being of their fellow man, and that this assumption has legal ramifications. So we see that it is the normal behavior expected of all Jews.

Rabbi Yaakov ben Asher, author of the Tur, discusses (in the Choshen Mishpat section of Shulchan Aruch, chapter 35) a person who does not care about the money of others, and he writes that such a person will, in the future, surely answer for it. The Minchas Chinuch writes that one who is concerned about the preservation of his fellow Jew’s money fulfills the Biblical commandment of v’ahavta l’rei’acha kamocha (see his commentary on that mitzvah). n

The author can be reached at yairhoffman2@gmail.com.

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