As you may know I recently spent a few months in Israel. Most of it was spent studying, but I did some sight seeing and I found some really special relationships. One of those relationships started because I listened to a little voice inside me that said, “Don’t just sit there and do nothing.”
It was early October, just after Yom Kippur but days before Sukkot. I had spent almost three solid months studying Torah, Talmud, Pirkei Avos, halacha, while daving on the yeshivas schedule, and trying to write or learn more in the evening. And I was doing it all on about 5 hours of sleep. So when we got to be’in izman (basically fall break) I was quite excited to chill, reading at my leisure, and catching up on the Twin Peaks revival.
I had just sat down in the beis medrish (study hall) to review Gemara Succos when I overheard, “I don’t know, somewhere by the side of the road!” Michael said to Ari as they walked through. (Names have been changed for lashon hara sake. Not that either did anything bad or wrong, but I didn’t ask permission to share the story). A lot of the students had gone to play basketball somewhere and I just assumed Michael and Ari had been with them. Best I could make out of the conversation, Michael had lost his iPhone while he put it down to play and now it was gone. Michael went off to find it and Ari was going to keep calling the phone until Michael heard his ring tone. I figured they had it under control and went back to my own thing.
But about an hour later, Ari comes up to me. “You’ll never believe this. So I’m calling Michael’s phone and this woman picks up. She says she can’t help give back the phone because it’s not a kosher phone and she’s not allowed to touch it. But she’s putting it in the flowers behind Rami Levi and Avi Sofer.”
Important Note: I ask you to not make any judgement on this woman or on the very religious from this story. You’re hearing one side, without knowing the halacha on returning lost objects, a community’s view on an object that has access to some very non-kosher material, and also I am paraphrasing a message that Ari had to do his best to translate from Hebrew. The only reason I mention it is to progress the story. Please judge favorably.
It turns out that Michael was not in fact playing basketball but went for a bike ride. He had been riding along a busy street and somewhere along the way, the phone fell out of his backpack. Ari and I did our best to decode the message. “In the flowers, behind Rami Levi? That gigantic super market?” “What’s Avi Sofer? Google’s finding one in Tel Aviv, but no where around here.” “And even if there is one, how could it be behind Rami Levi?” We Google map the information we have to figure out where it might be. We come up with this.
Unfortunately, there’s no way to contact Michael to help him narrow his search (the catch 22 of losing your phone.) And Ari has an important meeting in a few minutes. I start to think.
I want to help Michael. But I really wanted to enjoy the afternoon. If I lost my phone wouldn’t it be great if someone tried their hardest to help? But what are the chances I’m actually going to find it? I hem and haw for a little longer until I think, What if I find it? It’d take a miracle from Hashem. But if I don’t believe in miracles, what am I doing in Erezt Yisroel? I decide to make the trek.
Journey to the Shopping Center of the… Israeli Suburb
I knew where Rami Levi was so I decided to stop there. But what flowers could the woman have been talking about? Was that even a good translation? Maybe she meant, bushes? Maybe she meant grass? And what about the word, behind? Could she have meant in between? The street Rami Levi was on, Kanfei Nesharim, had a median between each direction of traffic. And that whole median was, you guessed it, covered with plants, shrubs, and other foliage.
When I got to Rami Levi, I was pretty overwhelmed with the possible flower locations.
I prayed to Hashem for His help then proceeded to check anything that resembled any sort of plant based life form. No luck. As I finally exited the Rami Levi parking lot, contemplating just where along the vast swath of the plant filled median the woman might have put it, I noticed a sign on the other side of the road.
Yes! The mystery store that Google says doesn’t exist! And what is right in front of it?
I ran across the street and immediately searched the flowers. No phone. But if you’ll noticed that bed of flowers is on the side of a Sukkah. I went inside to find…
I vigorously started digging through them. Almost immediately, a man, probably not much older than 23, confronts me. “What are you doing?” (Probably, he was barking at me in Hebrew.) I responded as slowly and as clearly as possible, carefully telling him the important beats of the story. I don’t know whether it was the intensity of my concern, or the fact that I came off as crazy, but he started helping me look for it. He went into the nearby stores asking if anyone had turned in an iPhone.
I continued to search and after a moment, the man came back out. “So I need to talk to the person who lost the phone.” I didn’t know what to say. I had no way of contacting Michael. And Ari had stopped answering his phone a while ago. Even if he did answer, what would he say to this guy? That’s when I looked over and saw… Michael!
Somehow Ari had relayed the message to him and he was now looking in separate bed of flowers next to the sidewalk. I left the man and went over to Michael, he was excited to see me as we caught each other up on where he has already looked. Without needing to explain, the man understood who this mysterious bicycler was and joined in our search.
It wasn’t long before I spotted the black iPhone 5, power drained, slightly scuffed, hiding in a shrub. Victory! Hashem had rewarded my efforts and I was able to return the phone safely to Michael.
The Reward of a Mitzvah
“Rabbi Yose says: Your friend’s property should be as precious to you as your own…” Pirkei Avos 2:12.
Michael insisted on buying me dinner. I eventually took him up on it and for the first time I really got to know him. Ari and I discussed with the Rabbi the ins and outs of the laws concerning returning a lost object and if the woman from before was at all liable. And the story itself was a testament to a miracle of Hashem. So much good came from making the decision to try despite the improbably odds. But the Pirkei Avos quote above is what ultimately convinced me to get off my butt and help.
In the Shemoneh Esrei, the second brucha says מכלכל חיים בחסד, [He] sustains the living, with kindness… Someone once told me that you should try to be the miracle for others that we so desperately pray for. It’s a tremendous thing to be able to give people what they can’t give themselves. And if you can’t give them that, then at least be apart of their struggle. I can’t say I’ve held true to that advice often, or even a fraction of the opportunities Hashem has given me to fulfill it. But I am grateful I made the decision this one time. And if you find yourself with the opportunity, give it a good second thought. You might be glad you did.
This blog post is dedicated to the refuah shlema to Marcus Freed (Harav Matisyahu Joel Baruch Ben Gitel). He was hit by a hit and run driver last Shabbos and has been going through numerous operations since. Though at this point he seems to be pulling through, medical expenses and recovery is going to difficult and quite the burden. If you’d like to donate to his cause (which I implore you to do) please click here.