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What Should You do with a Package Received That is not Yours?

Rabbi Daniel Dombroff

Case: A person received a package delivered to his house. He had not ordered any package, nor did he expect to receive such a package from anyone. When he looked at the identifying label, he saw that it was supposed to be delivered to his next-door neighbor.

Question: What should he do with the package?


Answer: One aspect of this question relates to at what point the neighbor would have acquired the package halachically. However, the issue is complex, as it involves determining the type of kinyan at play in online transactions, as well as issues of bereirah (there was no defined object yet at the time of payment, so perhaps the kinyan has not yet taken place). For the sake of simplicity, we will assume that a valid kinyan has already occurred and the package belongs to the neighbor who ordered it.

The second aspect of the question relates to the mitzvah of hashavas aveidah. If the neighbor is a Yehudi, then the person who received it should certainly bring it to him, in order to fulfill the mitzvah of hashavas aveidah. It is important to note in this context that it is best that the intention not be about returning the object just from a moral standpoint, or  “to be a good neighbor”. Rather, one should return lost objects with the express intent to perform the mitzvah of hashavas aveida (see Sanhedrin 76b) .

If one’s neighbor is not a Yehudi, then the mitzvah of hashavas aveidah does not apply. Nevertheless, the element of kiddush Hashem should be taken into account, and tremendous value exists in returning lost objects for this reason. This is evident from the Talmud Yerushalmi’s description (Bava Metzia 2:1) of the story of Shimon ben Shetach, who returned a precious pearl found on his newly purchased donkey to its previous owner who was an Eino Yehudi, thereby creating a great kiddush Hashem (see also Shulchan Aruch, C.M. 266:1). [EO3] 

In addition, the considerations of eivah, darkei shalom, and potential chilul Hashem must also be taken into account in such cases. We see many Gemaras that talk about darkei shalom. For example, Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai always greeted everyone, including non-Jews, before they greeted him.  

Returning lost objects to others around us can raise our reputation as Jews in their eyes. It thus has great value and is ultimately considered a tremendous mitzvah.

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