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A young rabbi reportedly found nearly $100,000 in a desk he'd purchased second-hand on Craigslist, and subsequently returned the money.

Is this story about a Kiddush HaShem, or a Hassid Shoteh (stupidly/unnecessarily pious person)?

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A detail I found significant about this story is that when buying the desk, the owner told the rabbi that she had assembled it herself, and therefore there was no doubt that it was really her money that she had placed there. It's possible that the halakha would be different if this were not the case? –  Shivaram Lingamneni Nov 28 '13 at 8:40

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Thanks to Reddit user Bar Kappara (by way of @Isaac Moses) for this answer:

Devarim Rabba 3:3: It is told of Rabbi Shimon ben Shetach that he once purchased an ass from an Ishmaelite. When his disciples came, they found a jewel suspended from its neck and said, "Master, 'The blessing of Hashem, it makes rich.'" [Proverbs 10:22] Rabbi Simon ben Shetach said "I purchased an ass --- I did not purchase a precious stone." He therefore went and returned the jewel to the Ishmaelite, who thereafter used to say, "Blessed be the Lord G-d of Shimon ben Shetach."

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Also consider adding Bava Kamma (113b, תניא ר' פנחס בן יאיר אומר במקום שיש חילול השם אפי' אבידתו אסור), Rambam (Hil. G'zeila v'Aveida 11:3, אבידת עובד עכו"ם מותרת שנאמר אבידת אחיך והמחזירה הרי זה עובר עבירה מפני שהוא מחזיק יד רשעי עולם. ואם החזירה לקדש את השם כדי שיפארו את ישראל וידעו שהם בעלי אמונה הרי זה משובח. ובמקום שיש חלול השם אבידתו אסורה וחייב להחזירה.), and Shulchan Aruch (CM 266:1, essentially quoting the Rambam). –  Fred Nov 12 '13 at 0:49
    
@Fred those are good additional points for another answer, but I think this drives the point home directly. The former owner would never have known, but the buyer did, and he couldn't live with that. –  Seth J Nov 12 '13 at 4:43
    
... Which is the הרי זה משובח ("this is praiseworthy") case in the Rambam. –  Fred Nov 12 '13 at 6:00
    
Besides that, the former owner who had known initially where the money was hidden but subsequently forgot, might well have remembered it again at some future time. Knowing who the new owner was could easily have caused a Chilul H' if it wasn't returned. –  Imanonov Nov 12 '13 at 19:51

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