New Haven Rabbi Buys Desk, Finds $98,000 Inside, Returns Cash To Seller

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Rabbi Noah Muroff bought a desk online and found more than $90,000 inside. He returned the money to the owner and used it as a teaching moment for his kids. (HANDOUT)

NEW HAVEN — When Rabbi Noah Muroff needed a desk, he searched online and found one he liked.

The asking price was $250. He offered $150, and the seller accepted.

He went to the seller’s home with a friend on Sept. 2, loaded the desk into his van and took it home. Moving it into his house wasn’t as easy — the desk was a fraction of an inch too big.

Muroff and his friend began taking the desk apart so they could fit it through the door. Inside the desk, he found a plastic shopping bag bulging with $98,000 in cash.

What to do? Muroff, who teaches Judaic studies at the Yeshiva of New Haven, and his wife, Esther, had a quick discussion, but the answer was obvious. The money had to be returned.

It had taken hours to wrestle the desk into his house and it was late. “We called her up at 11:30 at night to break the news to her,” Muroff said. “She was beyond words. She was totally speechless.”

They made arrangements to return the money the next day. The Muroffs took their four children along to give them a real-life lesson.

“They should learn from this — about the attribute of honesty, and doing what is right,” he said.

Muroff said the woman asked him not to identify her publicly. She told Muroff she had inherited the money, and it had apparently fallen down behind a drawer. She said she’d searched for the money and figured it was somewhere else in the house.

Finding money and returning it has been the topic of lessons at school, Muroff said.

“The Jewish law requires one, in general, to return found objects to the rightful owner,” he said. “This is what is expected of a Jew. Throughout Jewish law, tremendous concern is shown for the feelings of other people.” Muroff said he decided to share his story with the hope that people might learn from it.

“We’re here to serve God and to be kind to other people,” he said. “It should be a lesson for people on how we need to act, what we need to do in life, what our priorities are.”

In a note to Muroff, the woman who sold him the desk thanked him for his honesty.

“I do like to believe that there are still good people left in this crazy world we live in,” she wrote. “You certainly are one of them.”

By David Owens, Hartford Courant

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