It looks like a New Haven rabbi is giving subway nap hero Isaac Theil a run for his money—literally. Noach Muroff, a high school teacher at Yeshiva of New Haven, is making headlines after a desk he bought for $150 on Craigslist turned out to have $98,000 inside, which he promptly returned to the owner.
I spoke to Muroff about the discovery, which occurred a few days before Rosh Hashanah in early September. He and his wife had been looking to buy a new desk for a few weeks before settling on one they found on Craigslist. They contacted the seller, and Muroff and a friend went to her house to purchase the desk, which they loaded into a van and brought to Muroff’s house. Once there, though, the desk wouldn’t fit through the door of the room it was intended for, too big by a fraction of an inch, Muroff explained. They tried to take the door off its hinges, but that didn’t work, and so they set about removing the top of the desk, which required detaching two file cabinets that were affixed to the desk.
“We detached these drawers and removed the top, and behind it was this bag,” Muroff said. In it they found stacks of cash in 2,000 and 5,000 bundles, adding up to $98,000 in total. “We counted it up a few times to be sure,” he said. “We were laughing at each other in disbelief, we were in total shock.”
“This only happens in the movies,” Muroff told his wife.
Within minutes, he said, they decided to return the money. The woman selling the desk had told them she bought it from Staples and assembled it herself, so the money was obviously hers. “We called her up to return the money to her, and she was ecstatic and beyond words, in total shock and disbelief that someone would call and return the money.” It was apparently her inheritance, which had fallen behind the desk drawer and was presumed lost.
“If Hashem wants us to have this $98,000, he will make sure we have it in a way he sees fit,” Muroff told me, laughing. “There’s a reason why it didn’t fit in the room and why we had to take the desk apart.”
Muroff and his wife brought their four children with them to the woman’s home to deliver the loot, so they could witness the good deed firsthand, Muroff explained. She gave him a handwritten note with the original $150 he had paid for the desk inside, and insisted on giving them a reward.
It wasn’t until a few months later that Muroff decided to go public with his Craigslist mitzvah. “One of the main reasons we decided to share this story was because we really want to publicize the fact of doing that which is right and that which is honest,” he told me. “That’s what a Jew is supposed to do.”
Previous: A Kiddush Hashem Goes Viral
Stephanie Butnick is deputy editor of Tablet Magazine and a host of the Unorthodox podcast.