Shabbat Parashat Toldot| 5765
Returning Lost Objects - VI - Pay for Returning Object
Upon returning the lost item (aveida) there are different types of monetary claims that the finder can make on the owner. He can demand reimbursement for direct expenditures related to tending to the aveida, most classically when the aveida is an animal which needs to be fed (Bava Metzia 28b). But can he charge for the trouble he went through to find the owner?
The gemara (Berachot 29a) learns that one may not take money for performing mitzvot, just as Moshe did not charge Bnei Yisrael for teaching them Torah. While we haven’t the space to develop the idea, the basic explanation seems to be as follows (by mitzvot other than teaching Torah, which is more severe). Whenever one demands payment for a service, he is in effect “threatening” the person interested in the service that unless he is promised payment, he will refuse to provide the service. However, when the service is an obligatory mitzva (such as returning a lost object) he cannot honestly say that he will refuse to return it. (According to this appproach, one who does the mitzva may receive money if it is offered to him voluntarily.)
Yet, in at least one case, he can demand some payment for his time. In a case where he lost out from his normal livelihood to perform the mitzva, he can demand that which is known as s’char batala (compensation for being idle from work) (ibid.30b). This is simply an extension of the concept that one can demand compensation for expenditures. Even in this case, steps are taken to determine the true, monetary loss incurred while returning the aveida. If the activity of returning the aveida is less strenuous than the work it replaced, then we subtract the value of the relative “vacation from work” that the finder enjoyed from the s’char batala otherwise coming to the finder. Only when the finder resents the cost of the “vacation time” forced upon him by the mitzva of hashavat aveida can special arrangements be made to compensate him fully (ibid).
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