Several years ago, it was reported a young rabbi in Connecticut, Noah Muroff, purchased a used desk on Craigslist. Upon taking the desk apart, the rabbi noticed a bag with $98,000 cash that had fallen behind one of the drawers. It was clear the money had been there for a while and had probably been forgotten about. The young rabbi took his four children with him and returned the money to the previous owner, an elderly widow living alone.
The woman was overwhelmed by the rabbi’s honesty. She offered Muroff a generous reward, but he refused to accept anything, claiming that the mitzvah was enough of a reward.
Although the rabbi did not try to attract attention to his good deed, a leading rabbi encouraged him to go public. He felt with all the negative press of high-profile Jews embroiled in financial impropriety or other scandals, this news story presented an image of kiddush Hashem, a sanctification of G-d’s name. It is the type of behavior for which the Jewish people were instructed to strive.
Indeed, the story went viral, and was even picked up by the national media, and he was interviewed on a national talk show. People across the country were talking about the honest rabbi.
The mitzvah of kiddush Hashem is instructed in this week’s portion. The purpose of the Jewish people’s chosen status was to fulfill G-d’s Torah, His instructions for life. Keeping the high standards of behavior that the Torah sets for the Jew allows them to serve as a role model for all society to emulate. This is a testament not only to the Jew, but to the All Mighty as well. It fulfills G-d’s plan for what a human being can, and must, achieve.
Rav Shimon Schwab, the late rabbi of the German Jewish community in Washington Heights N.Y., once commented when one looks up the word “Jew” in the dictionary, they will sometimes find after the definition, that the word is also a slang expression, albeit politically incorrect, describing a sly, greedy and aggressive person. This is proof that the Jewish people have not fulfilled their mission of sanctifying G-d’s Name. It is only when we look up the word “Jew” and after the definition it states that the word depicts a person who subscribes to a higher standard of morality than most people – then we will know that the Jew has begun to fulfill the responsibility incumbent upon the chosen people.
Rabbi Ephraim Nisenbaum is the co-founder and director of the Jewish Learning Connection, a Jewish outreach organization offering educational classes and study opportunities throughout Northeast Ohio.