For many years now, it has been my tradition to resend a musing for Ki Tetze originally written in 1997, entitled "Torah, the Gold Watch and Everything." The title is a play on John MacDonald's 1960 fantasy fiction novel "The Girl, the Gold Watch and Everything" which was made into a (really bad) movie in 1980. None of which is relevant, but interesting nonetheless.
Every year, people would write and ask me "so what happened to the watch?" Two years ago, I hinted that there was a postscript to the story which someday I would tell. And last year the time had finally come to tell the rest of the tale. Then, I wrote these words: "It's all so apropos that I have always felt people would find it unbelievable, and I feared being accused of boasting about my own righteous behavior. I can only tell you that the story is a true one. You'll have to judge for yourself, for I am including the story's postscript this year."
Well this musing, along with the "rest of the story" remains a classic, and in keeping with the tradition, I offer it once again for your consideration.
A reminder for context, that previously I worked as the production and venue manager for a performing arts facility, during the time when this musing was first written.
Random Musings Before Shabbat--Ki Tetze 5757ff The Torah, The Gold Watch, and Everything (and the Rest of the Story) There it sits. Each day, at some point, I open the pencil drawer in my desk at work, and laying among the hundreds of other miscellaneous items, it shines and stares at me. That gold ladies watch. It's been a month, I say. Six months. A year. Two years. Why not finally take it home.
I tried all the usual means to locate the owner, who lost it at a symphony concert in my venue almost two years ago. The usher who first found it and brought it to me in my office thought this find was important enough to bring to my attention right away.
"It's a gold watch, after all."
I asked "Have you ever not brought something you found to my attention right away?"
"Oh yes" she said. "We find little unimportant things all the time. We just put them in our pockets and then leave them in the lost and found box."
"So no one knows you put them there, except you?" I asked.
Never wasting a teachable moment, I hastened to tell the well meaning usher that we should treat every lost object as if it were priceless to its owner - whether it's a cracker-jack box ring, an umbrella, or a gold watch. And I've been teaching that to all the staff ever since.
But I digress. I called the symphony office, tried to find out who was sitting in seats in the area the watch was found. We called all those we could identify and none of them had lost it. We kept this up for several weeks. No one called to claim it. At other symphony concerts over the years I have asked people if they knew who might own this watch. We opened the watch and checked for serial numbers, engravings, etc. Still no luck.
And now it is two years later. All last week, I kept saying to myself, "Adrian, it's time. Just take it home, or donate it to a charity that could resell it (or use it.)"
Each day, I had the same conversation. Shabbat Shofetim came and went. Then it was time to read Ki Tetze. And there it was, 22:1-3.
1. If you see your fellow's ox or sheep gone astray, do not ignore it; you must take it back to your fellow. 2 If your fellow does not live near you or you do not know who he is, you shall bring it home and it shall remain with you until your fellow claims it; then you shall give it back to him. 3 You shall do the same with his ass; you shall do the same with his garment; and so too shall you do with anything that your fellow loses and you find: you must not remain indifferent. [JPS]
I had done the right thing. [5764-and something has always told me that this was a Jewish value that had been instilled in me by my parents.] And I should keep doing it.
My life continue to be a series of the little epiphanies. It's a joy.
Well, wouldn't it be nice if I could say that this story has a perfect ending - and the owner of the watch finally was found and I returned it. No such luck. [5764-Torah teaches us that we must seek out the owner of the lost item, but it doesn't tell us what to do when we can't find them, so the tradition has always been to hold on to things until the owner is finally found. There is a Talmudic story about Rabbi Chanina who watched over some wandering chickens so fastidiously that what started out as a few chickens wound up as a herd of goats which were ultimately returned to the original owner of the chickens. This story has been further enhanced in many fanciful retellings by Jewish storytellers over the centuries.]
I think it is finally time to take the watch to some charity that can use it. The watch has already served its purpose sitting in my drawer - that constant reminder to me of the ethic by which I, as a Jew, must live. And a reminder to teach those ethics to those who work with me. It's as though that little watch was a verse of Torah come to life. Now it's time to let it bring its magic to others. I only hope that it was to its original owner of as great a value as it has been to me, and will now be to others.
My your drawers contain that little piece of Torah as well...
...And here the original tale ended in 5757.
So what did happen to the watch? I'll tell you, though I fear you might think I'm making it up. I'm not.
The true story is better than fiction. I have only told a few close friends, and I never wrote it up before as I thought no one would believe it.
One very cold winter's day, and remember this took place while I was living in Fargo, North Dakota-where cold days can really be cold, I took the watch with me on a trip to the Goodwill store, where I routinely used to shop for props for shows (and where I had learned to shop for clothes, because somewhat used and shrunken men's mall and medium sizes might fit my small but broad shaped body better than newer clothes. It was a lesson my wife at the time, Linda, taught me.) I was going to donate the watch to them.
On my way from the parking lot into the store, a bag lady who hung around there periodically accosted me and asked if I had the time. I looked at my watch and told her the time. She thanked me and I started to walk off into the store but she shouted at me to wait. She rummaged through her bags a minute. Eventually, she brought out an old, battered pocket watch--a real old railroad watch or conductor's watch--I think it had the Burlington-Northern Railway logo on it. She said it doesn't work anymore, but that it had been her father's watch-he had indeed been a railroad conductor on the BN line. She offered to sell it to me for $5. The irony of it all was quite thick. I took the gold watch out of my pocket, and gave it to her, saying "how about an exchange." She asked if it worked and I said yes. She handed me the pocket watch. She said "Gd bless you" and shuffled off.
[In retrospect, I suppose I could have just given her the watch, and let her keep the old timepiece, which seemed to have sentimental value. So even I learn ways to improve myself when I retell these stories.]
It doesn't end there. I figured that this old pocket watch was probably worth something, and I had an idea, so I showed it to a friend in Fargo who dealt in antiques. He offered me $100 on the spot for it! Apparently, they were in demand. Later that day, I cashed the check. I wrote a note explaining what I had done, put it and $100 cash in an envelope and took it back to the Goodwill store. The bag lady wasn't there, but the nice people in the store said they would give it to her, as she comes around every so often.
I think it was around 6 months later that I happened to go back to the Goodwill store, and guess who was working there? It took a minute to recognize her-but it was the bag lady, her name was Eunice, as her name tag proudly displayed. Clean, dressed in decent clothes. She never showed any hint of knowing me, which I guess, in the end, was actually better, making it a "better mitzvah" according to the Rambam's ladder. Of course, I don't know that it was that $100 that might have set her on the path that led her to wind up working at the Goodwill store, but that doesn't really matter.
Now can you see why I think no one would ever believe it. And why I think perhaps it would make me seem to be boasting about my myself, and that wouldn't be right. And, of course, we never did find the watches original owner. So in some ways, the mitzvah wasn't fulfilled. Yet, in attempting to fulfill one mitzvah, other mitzvot were brought about. Mitzvah goreret mitzvah. One mitzvah leads to another.
I've had other lost items turn up over the years that I've held on to while seeking the owner. Yet none of those stories is as amazing as the story of the gold watch left at the symphony concert. To this day, I think of that watch that sat in my desk drawer for two years. And I'm always on the lookout for more little pieces of Torah sitting in my drawers.
And now you all know the end of the story. Which means that next year, I'll have to write an entirely new musing for Ki Tetze. Mitzvah goreret mitzvah.
©1997, 2001, 2004 and 2005 by Adrian A. Durlester
Some other musings on this parasha:
Ki Tetze 5758--Exclude Me
Ki Tetze 5762--One Standard
Email Me A Comment!