Recently, the news was awash with the great kiddush ha-shem performed by Rabbi Noah Muroff when he returned a bag containing nearly $100,000 to its rightful owner. I then listened to his talk at the Agudah convention here.
I am curious if anyone else had my reaction. While his return of the money was definitely a kiddush ha-shem, I think that his speech has the potential to be a hillul ha-shem, nullifying the kiddush ha-shem. First of all, he lets the world know that there are those who told him that it was forbidden (!) to return this money. He then tells the audience that his justification of returning the money was in order to make a kiddush ha-shem. This approach, which received applause at the convention (but not from those on the dais!), is not what he explained in a prior interview with the Los Angeles Times that his reason was “to do what is right, and thinking about the feelings of others. It’s looking out for one’s fellow man, and not just for one’s self.” (I assume this is how he really feels, not how he expressed himself at the convention.)
Let’s leave aside the point that as best as I can determine, according to secular law one is indeed obligated to return lost property of this sort. I understand that, for those who don’t accept the Meiri, the halakhah Muroff is discussing can be quite a challenge in modern times. But I wonder what is going through the heads of the Agudah leadership. Do they really want the entire world to know that their approach in this matter has nothing to do with helping one’s fellow man, but is about doing what will make Jews look good in people’s eyes? Isn’t this the sort of thing that would be best not spoken about in public?
Marc B. Shapiro, “The Vilna Gaon, part 3 (Review of Eliyahu Stern, The Genius)”, The Seforim Blog (23 February 2014) [http://seforim.blogspot.com/2014/02/the-vilna-gaon-part-3-review-of-eliyahu.html]