This is an "outtake" from an article on which I am currently working, which is not yet published. The publication was not interested in including this long quotation in the article:
There is a worrisome trend in our society to adopt a very disturbing perspective, one that emerges from the following passages from a widely distributed and respected “Parashah Sheet.” From Toras Avigdor, Nitzavim-Rosh HaShanah 5779:1
Everyone knows about hashavas aveidah, the mitzvah to return a lost item to a fellow Jew. The Torah says you have to bring it back to him; it’s a mitzvah d’oraisah. And it also says there, You should not avert your eyes from the aveidah; it’s an aveirah to walk by and ignore it… So now we can look at the gemara (Sanhedrin 76b) and see how Chazal describe the sin of this man who is planting poison seeds in his mind; the one who is “adding the satiated onto the thirsty.” And the gemara says like this: What did he do? He was walking, let’s say, past a Korean fruit store and he saw a fruit lying on the sidewalk. An apple fell off the bin and in another minute someone will pass by and kick the apple into the gutter. So this man bends over, picks up the apple and puts it back on the bin. That’s all he did. He has in his mind hashavas aveidah – to return a lost article. And what does the Torah say about this good fellow, this well-mannered citizen? Maybe he should get a special commendation from the mayor? Could be. But listen to what the Torah says about him: Hashem will not want to forgive him for what he did. Not only that He won't forgive him; He won't desire to forgive him. Hashem won't even desire to forgive him?! What did this man do wrong already? He picked up the apple and put it back on the bin – that’s all he did…
All week long the Am Yisroel is busy with mitzvos. A frum Jew gets up early in the morning to go to shul and then a few hours later he’s back in shul again. Elderly men, bochurim and little children are going to shul. Back and forth, back and forth. Shachris, mincha, ma’ariv – he davens and he learns a little bit too. He puts a nickel in the pushka whenever he gets a chance.
Are goyim busy with mitzvos all day long?! Ah nechtige tug! He sees the Jew walking back and forth to shul a few times a day; he doesn’t understand wh at’s happening. He goes to church once a month and the priest says, “All your sins are forgiven,” and finished. Don’t think that the Catholics or the Protestants, even the religious ones, are the same as you, only that the religion is different. Don’t make any mistake about that! There is a very wide chasm between you and them. Goyim don’t desire mitzvos; maybe they accept a few commandments of the Torah, maybe they follow some of the Bible, but they don’t do it with any sort of cheshek, any desire. Even if they do some things, they’re zaht – they’re overfed; they’re not thirsty for mitzvos. I’ll tell you what they’re thirsty for. You walk in the streets early in the morning in a Catholic neighborhood, a respectable upper class Catholic neighborhood, and lying stretched out on the ground is a good Catholic. He’s drunk and he’s been sleeping on the street all night. I walked in the Catholic neighborhoods forty years ago and I saw that many times. Drunk all night, fast asleep in the gutter; and then he gets up in the morning, staggers home, and tells everybody, “Ooh wah! What a time I had last night!” He’s proud of himself. And did they expel him from their homes or from their churches? No! Never! It wasn’t even considered a chisaron. Many people admired him; they were jealous of him. It was an exploit! He would tell his friends about it: “Did I ever tell you about the time that I slept drunk in the gutter the whole night?!” A goy is satiated with drink! He wants mitzvos like he wants a hole in his shoe…
And so this man, when he picks up the Korean apple from the sidewalk and puts it back into the bin, he’s equating the overfed goyim with the Am Yisroel, the nation that is thirsty toserve its Creator. He equated the honor of the gentile to that of a Yisroel. When a person does that out of the generosity of his heart; when he thinks, “Since it’s a good thing to return a lost apple that belongs to a Jewish fruit man, I won't be selfish just for us alone. I’ll be generous hearted, and I’ll return it to the goy too,” so that man has to know that Hashem won't forgive him. Hashem won’t even desire to forgive him for that poisonous thought in his head of equating the honor that belongs to the Jewish nation with that of the gentiles.
Now, if you tell me that you pick it up because you want to show that Jews are good people, darkei shalom, all right, maybe. Everyone knows that if the cashier in the 99 cent store accidentally gives you more than you deserve to get, so sometimes it pays to say, “You made a mistake. You gave me too much money.” Could be. If you have a beard and a black hat, it could be it’s a mitzvah to say that. So if there are goyim standing around, if a policeman is standing there, all right, pick up the apple and put it back on the bin. Be a nice fellow so that the goyim will say, “You see that; the Jews aren’t so bad after all.” It’s a mitzvah to raise the honor of the Jewish people in the eyes of the goyim.
But otherwise pass by. Because what we’re learning here is that it’s even a bigger mitzvah to raise the honor of the Jewish people in your own eyes! And what that means is that when you pass by the fruit on the floor you keep going – and you remind yourself why you’re doing that. You don’t want to be a man who harbors poison in his mind, someone who is equating the honor of the over-satiated with the honor that belongs only to the thirsty nation. For a Yisroel, achicha, yes, you bend over and pick it up. The lost object of your brother in mitzvos you’re michuyav to return. A nation that does mitzvos, so we do mitzvos for them – it’s an honor they deserve! But the gentiles? They don’t want to do any mitzvos, so we don’t honor them with our mitzvos.
Now this I admit; let’s say you found a watch in the street and now you want to put it in your pocket. It could be you have to give it to the police. I don’t know; it could be there’s a law like that. Some places have a law that you have to bring it to the police station. So if it’s a law of the government, that’s something else. But you’re not doing it because of a mitzvah though; you’re only doing it because of the law. But no government has a law that you have to bend over to pick up the apple. There’s no such thing that when you pass by a fruit stand, you must pick up the apple and put it back – no. And so if you lean over and pick up that Korean’s apple it’s a terrible sin. And you're also doing a tremendously dangerous thing for yourself. If you pick it up with the same emotion that you pick up an apple for the Jewish food store, so the Torah says, Hashem will not want to forgive you. If you do it because you want to do a good deed – let’s say you’re not thinking and you have in mind the idea of hashavas aveidah – so you’ve committed a crime, a very great crime against the greatness of Am Yisroel. A crime?! Yes, it’s a crime. The crime is that you don’t understand, you don’t appreciate the greatness of the Am Yisroel…
“You are My firstborn son,” says Hashem. “You’re My only son.” And that’s so important that it’s something we’re expected to internalize every time we pass by the Korean fruit store. I make it a point to pass by! I wouldn’t pick it up. I make it a point to keep on walking and I remind myself, “Only for a Yisroel there’s a mitzvah.” I hope you’ll try that out next time. Because to do otherwise means that you’re planting poisonous seeds in your mind.
Rabbi Shimon ben Shetach dealt in linen. His students said to him: “Rebbe, desist from this trade. We will buy you a donkey [to make an easier living as a donkey driver] and you will not have to toil so much.” They went and purchased a donkey from a bandit. The students subsequently found a precious stone dangling from it. They went back to Rabbi Shimon ben Shetach and said to him: “From now on you need not exert yourself.” He asked: “How so?” The students responded: “We purchased a donkey for you from a bandit and a precious stone was dangling from it.” Rabbi Shimon ben Shetach asked: “Did the donkey’s seller know that the stone was there?” They answered: “No.” He then said to them: “Go return it.” The students remonstrated with Rabbi Shimon ben Shetach: “Although theft from an idolater is prohibited, is one not permitted to keep an object that an idolater has lost?” He responded: “What do you think, that Shimon ben Shetach is a barbarian? More than all the wealth of the world, Shimon ben Shetach desires to hear [the non-Jew say]: “Berich Eloko d’Yehudo’ei” (“Blessed is the God of the Jews”).