When David Page withdrew five $20 bills from an ATM machine on a recent Friday evening, he wasn't thinking about tzedakah. In fact, all he was really thinking about was that he might need a couple of those bills to pay for dinner at Jules Pizza in Newtown, Pa., where he was headed with his wife, son and nephews.
He put the cash in his overcoat pocket and soon forgot about it after deciding to use a credit card for the pizza. Then they were off to Temple Judea in Doylestown.
During services, Rabbi Mitchell Delcau stopped proceedings to announce that someone had found a $20 bill, Page recounted in an email to the Exponent. If nobody claimed the money by the end of the evening, the rabbi said, he would simply place it in the tzedakah box. Fittingly, that same night Delcau had discussed what tzedakah meant — not just the task of giving charity, but also the idea of righteousness, fairness and "the obligation to do what is right and just," Page wrote.
By the end of the night, no one had claimed the $20. "And no doubt, all was forgotten by the congregants — after all, it was only $20," Page said.
The next morning, Page looked in his pockets for the $100 he had withdrawn. Perplexed to find it missing, he searched his clothes, the car, even his pajamas. Retracing his steps, he sheepishly called Jules Pizza to ask what he "feared was the dumbest question you can ask."
To his great surprise, the manager on duty confirmed that the money had indeed been found and was waiting for him to pick up. However, only $80 had been turned in. The missing $20, Page realized, must have been the bill that was found at Temple Judea the night before and donated to tzedakah.
He wrote to the Exponent, he said, to share this message for the customer who turned in his lost money, a "regular" according to the manager:
"Consider yourself a righteous, fair and just person; you are far from 'regular,' " Page wrote.
"Your actions did two things," Page continued. "It showed 'first-hand' the beauty of tzedakah in action right here in this community and secondly, taught me a great lesson — do not put money in an overcoat pocket."