Do the right thing! It’s easy to say… and most of us try… but could you really do it if you were tested in a big way?
abbi Noach Muroff was put to the test — and came through with flying colors in 2013, when he was living in New Haven, Connecticut.
“We were looking for a new desk for our home office,” Rabbi Muroff recounts. He was thrilled to find a secondhand desk in great condition for only $150.
Eager to get the desk home, he and a friend went to pick it up with Rabbi Muroff’s van. But when they got it home, they realized it wouldn’t fit through the office door. Looking at the desk carefully, Rabbi Muroff realized he’d have to take it apart. If he took off the wooden desktop, the desk would fit through the doorframe — just barely.
But when he removed the desktop, Rabbi Muroff noticed something unusual. Behind one of the desk drawers was a plastic bag, and when he looked closer, he saw there was money inside. Curious, he pulled it out — and discovered $98,000 that had fallen behind the drawer.
What Would You Do?
Now, stop reading for a minute and test yourself.
You’re in a room, alone, and you’re holding a bag with $98,000. Nobody is looking. Nobody will ever know. Your heart is beating wildly; it’s more money than you’ve ever seen in one place in your life. Money that could feed your family, buy you a trip somewhere exciting, or maybe a better car, or even go to tzedakah.
What would you do?
“My wife and I were totally in shock,” Rabbi Muroff said. “We couldn’t believe what was going on. This only happens in stories!”
But he immediately knew who the money belonged to. The woman who’d sold him the desk had mentioned that she’d bought it a few years earlier from Staples. “She put it together herself, so we knew it was obviously her money.”
Wondering what Rabbi Muroff did? He called her. It was already late at night, but he knew she’d be thrilled. “She was speechless,” says Rabbi Muroff. “She couldn’t believe we’d actually call to tell her about it.”
It turned out she’d inherited a lot of money and had tucked some away for safekeeping in the desk, where some of her inheritance had fallen behind the drawer.
“I was sure it would turn up,” Patty told Rabbi Muroff. But she’d allowed the money to walk right out of her house with a stranger — not even realizing it.
Sharing the News
So, here’s another question: If all of that happened to you, would you tell people?
Many people would tell everyone they know if such a thing happened to them. But Rabbi Muroff wasn’t sure. A few months later, though, he spoke with Rav Shmuel Kamenetsky, who encouraged him to share the story. So he shared it with a local television station.
He called the woman who had sold him the desk, to let her know. “I called her the night before it was going to be on the news — this was just the local Connecticut news at ten o’clock. And then she called me two days later, shocked. While she was having her morning coffee, she saw it on another, much larger show.”
The story blew up all over newspaper and television channels in the U.S., Canada, Israel, and elsewhere. One TV station went out and asked people on the street what they would have done. Their reactions were mixed.
One woman said, “I would have returned the money.” But others weren’t so sure. Another woman said, “I would wait and see if they asked for it back.” And one man chimed in, “Finders, keepers.”
Some people now actually think of a kiddush Hashem opportunity as a “Muroff Moment,” whether it’s returning extra change to a cashier who’s made a mistake, or this story he heard from a boy at the Clifton Cheder in New Jersey:
“He bought a sefer from Z. Berman as a gift for his rebbe. And he found something like $2,000 cash inside the book. He called them back to return it — and made sure to tell me that he was inspired by my story.”
Would you have done the same thing in his shoes?
Moments like these are definitely a nisayon, but as Rabbi Muroff hears over and over, there is so much satisfaction in passing the test.
Like the man who ordered a camera from Amazon. “It was a very expensive camera, and they ended up sending him two. He returned one with a letter. He wrote that he was raised as an Orthodox Jew, and even though it was a mistake, he couldn’t keep both.
“When I hear these stories, it’s a tremendous chizuk,” says Rabbi Muroff.
A Mitzvah Anyone Can Do
As a rebbe, Rabbi Muroff knows there’s no minimum age for kiddush Hashem. This is one mitzvah that kids can do easily, and it doesn’t have to cost $98,000 — or anything at all.
“Hold the door open for the person behind you; greet people, say good morning. Just by greeting other people and being friendly, they’ll have a more positive view of you as a Jewish person. And the flipside is being careful about chillul Hashem. Like on Chol Hamoed when people go on trips to zoos and other places, be careful not to leave garbage lying around.
“Anywhere you go, there’s a tremendous opportunity, every single day, to make a kiddush Hashem. Any time that we’re out, everyone’s looking at us, they recognize that we’re frum Yidden. They want to see how we behave.”
Like at the worldwide Siyum HaShas in 2020. “There were thousands and thousands of Yidden at MetLife Stadium [in New Jersey]. The people working at the stadium were impressed with how pleasant and friendly everyone was. At the end they all said, ‘We’re looking forward to seeing you again in seven years.’”
And what became of the desk that started it all?
“I’m still using it — it’s not going anywhere.” The legendary desk has become part of the family, and has moved with the Muroffs, first to Georgia, and then to Arizona — a permanent reminder that kiddush Hashem is its own reward.
Rabbi Noach Muroff with Meir Kay
Reward for the Mitzvah
The next day, Rabbi Muroff brought his wife and children over to her house to return the money. “We brought our kids so that they should learn from this — being honest, doing the right thing.”
The woman was so grateful that she immediately offered him a reward.
Again, stop reading and ask yourself: what would you do?
Rabbi Muroff wasn’t sure if halachah allowed him to take a reward. So the night before, he’d called his rav in Eretz Yisrael to ask what to do. “We didn’t want it to look like we were doing this for a reward.”
His rav said that it would be better not to, but that if the woman insisted, Rabbi Muroff was definitely entitled to a reward. She ended up giving him $3,500, plus the $150 he’d originally paid for the desk — and the story of a lifetime.
A School for Kiddush Hashem
Arie Crown Hebrew Day School in Illinois has long emphasized middos and kiddush Hashem — but never so much as this year, when the eighth-grade class flew to Washington, DC for three days. They were met at the airport by non-Jewish bus driver Bill Riddick.
“They were very mannerly,” said Mr. Riddick. “They taught me some songs and we just clicked.”
He was so impressed by the respectful way the boys spoke to him and interacted with each other, and how they showed appreciation by thanking him, keeping the bus clean, and bringing him a drink or a meal, that he decided to surprise the boys by flying out to Chicago for their graduation.
Naturally, the school gave him a place of honor at the graduation dinner, and two of its rabbis offered to pay his plane fare and hotel, but he refused. “They showed me so much love, I wanted to go up there and surprise them,” Mr. Riddick explained.
Are there any people in your life that you might be taking for granted? How could you go that extra mile for them the way these eighth-grade boys did for their bus driver? Think of the kiddush Hashem it would make if you did!
The Story Continues
Rabbi Muroff says he has absolutely no regrets.
“I never wish that I’d kept that money,” he says simply. “My wife and I were both very happy with our decision to return the money. We never at any point felt that it was ours to keep.”
To this day, Rabbi Muroff is still sharing his story. A picture book, The Surprise in the Desk, written by Carol Ungar, was published by Hachai in 2020. Yaakov Schwekey recently recorded, “It Could be You,” featuring Rabbi Muroff.
Rabbi Muroff doesn’t make money from the book or the song, but he gets an even greater reward: the chance to share the idea of kiddush Hashem.
Almost every single article or television news item has featured a headline like “Rabbi Returns $98,000.” And every time he’s interviewed, Rabbi Muroff explains that returning the money was simply how he was raised as a Jew.
“The kiddush Hashem that has resulted was beyond any expectation. It’s extremely rewarding when people tell me that when they heard my story, they were inspired to do something to be mekadesh shem Shamayim.”
(Originally featured in Mishpacha Jr., Issue 941)
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