The story of Rabbi Shimon Ben Shetach is told in the Talmud Yershalmi Bava Mezia 2:5. Rav Shimon was one of the great commentators but he was very poor, scraping out a living by making linen. His students begged him to stop working and offered to buy him a donkey with which he could make more money and have more time to teach and rest.
They bought Rav Shimon a donkey from a non-Jew and when they led the donkey to him, they found a precious gem hidden within it. The students were excited, for now their rabbi would never have to work again. When they told the rabbi of their discovery, he stated, “Do you think I am a barbarian who only cares about making money?” The story ends with Rav Shimon telling his students to return the gem to its original owner and stating that he would rather hear Blessed is the G-d of the Jews than all the rewards in the world.
It’s rare to see stories from the Gemara play out in real life. But reports on Rabbi Noah Muroff, who bought a desk on Craigslist only to find $98,000 of cash stashed inside, show that sometimes they do.
Muroff has been teaching for the past five years, and the fact that he shopped for a desk on Craigslist suggests he is not exactly raking it in. What I find amazing about this story is that Muroff not only returned the money, but that he returned it to the owner without having her go through the indignity of filing a police report. He had remembered when buying the desk that the previous owner had assembled it at Staples beforehand, so he knew there was no owner before her. So when he found the money he knew it must be hers.
“A lot of people are cynical and have asked me why I didn’t call the police and why I immediately believed that the money belonged to the lady,” Muroff told the Times of Israel.
“The lady looked totally honest and nothing smelled funny about the situation,” he said. The rabbi also didn’t ask the woman too many questions about her unorthodox financial practices. “It’s not our money and it’s not our business,” he explained.
Nor only did Muroff give the money back, he did not judge the person who lost it. That is a rare commodity these days and is worthy of praise.
Thanks to the wonderful world of social media, this story has spread globally with CNN, the Daily Mail and the Huffington Post, among the many news outlets who picked up the story. Simple acts can create tremendous opportunities for blessing G-d’s name. There is no higher thing we Jews can do as a nation.
Muroff joins the kippah-wearing Isaac Theil, who stars in a now-iconic photo of an African American man sleeping on his shoulder on the New York subway. The photo went viral, with 1.3 million “likes” and 172,563 shares on Facebook. Stories of the two men show the world how small gestures of kindness go a long way.
We are so used to reading damning stories in the news that give religious figures a bad name. While we can’t stop members of our community from embarrassing us all, we can all learn to act like menches, just like Rav Shimon, Isaac Theil and now Rabbi Noah Muroff.
Joel Braunold is a Bnei Akiva alumnus and a former staff member of OneVoice Europe who is currently living in Brooklyn.