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Change of Heart

We couldn’t have anticipated what happened that Shabbos, that week

As told to Rivka Streicher

Living in Jerusalem, you know it’s sunny, bright, thousands of people, thousands of possibilities. At any time, anything can happen. But we still couldn’t have anticipated what happened that Shabbos, that week.

A couple of years ago we were living in a small apartment on Divrei Chaim Street, from which my wife also ran a clothing business.

One Shabbos, we moved into my brother and sister-in-law’s apartment, just a block away. Our relatives from the States had come to visit, and we all wanted to be together for Shabbos.

Shabbos was wonderful — family, and food, and camaraderie. On Motzaei Shabbos, we didn’t want to leave this bubble of family; we decided to stay over one more night.

We needed a couple of things, so I went down the street to our place. I opened the door to the apartment, flicked a switch, and stood there in the doorway, stupefied. The place was a wreck — cupboard doors flung open, drawers flying, boxes and bags strewn about, contents scattered across the floor. Envelopes were ripped, chairs shoved aside.

Then I noticed the silver, standing tall in the cabinet above the chaos, straight, almost smug. Oh, the silver hasn’t been taken. I slapped my head, What’s missing?

The cash from the store.

I ran to the drawer where we kept the profits from the clothing business. I hadn’t deposited it in some time, there was what, $7,000, maybe $8,000 there?

The drawer was open, its contents splayed around, and the cash was gone.

No-no-no-no. I closed my eyes, stood in the room swaying about me, and shook my head back and forth.

But I couldn’t lose it. I had to get help.

I swallowed, then surveyed the other drawers. My gold watch wasn’t in its usual place, and neither was my wife’s expensive, brand-name watch.

I took a few shaky breaths and collapsed onto the couch. Then I dialed 100.

The police came down and began looking around the apartment. “Mah karah? Eizeh balagan,” they tsked.

They had a look around and soon noted that the front-door lock hadn’t been jimmied at all. They concluded that the burglar must have gained access via the porch door, which had been closed but not locked, with the shutters down.

Lamah, why didn’t you lock it?” they remonstrated.

I held out a helpless hand.

“Look, the thief must’ve gotten onto the rooftop that abuts your building and jumped onto the porch,” one of them said.

They tried to take fingerprints but it was difficult, because our fingerprints were also all over the door.

They looked at the building’s video camera, which monitored the public areas. We saw the burglar leaving my house, dressed in black, his face covered. He was circling around a few times, probably waiting for the street to clear so he could make his escape. That’s why he didn’t take the silver — he could hardly carry bulging bags on a Friday night without arousing suspicion….

The officers wrote some notes, but offered little hope. “Unfortunately, this isn’t so uncommon,” they said. “The Arabs who live on the other side of the mountain have taken to climbing up the valley and breaking into homes on Friday nights when they know that lots of people eat out.”

With that explanation they closed the door and left.

I figured they were right, that it must’ve been one of those Arabs from across the valley. I was shocked and dismayed, but tried to hold myself together. My family came home the next day, and we started to clean the horrific mess, but I was disheartened, knowing the money was gone forever.

For my wife, her distress at losing the money was overshadowed by her fear that it could happen again. That first week she hardly let me leave the house.

“I can’t do this. I’m terrified,” she said.

A few days later, someone knocked on the door in the evening, when I wasn’t yet home. My wife peered through the peephole and saw an older man, but she wouldn’t open the door.

When he saw that he couldn’t get a response, the man went to a neighbor and asked if there had been a robbery in our home this past Friday night. The neighbor answered in the affirmative, and the guy told the neighbor that the man who took the money had done teshuvah and wanted to return what he stole.

By this time, I had returned. The older man reached into a pouch and withdrew our watches and a thick wad of cash.

“Some of the money’s already been used,” he said, “but the man isn’t sure how much he spent. He wants you to count it and make a cheshbon of how much is missing.”

Was he for real?

We wanted to know more: Who was this burglar, how had he come to do this in the first place, and how come he was returning it all? And who was this old man, this emissary of his?

But he wouldn’t say anything more. He kept repeating, charatah, chozer b’teshuvah.

And later that week he came again to return the rest of the money we were missing.

We got back the money, every penny of it, and we wear our watches with wonder, though we never did find out the other side of the story. But we know we were privy to something: the exactitude of His plan — the momentary agmas nefesh we were meant to suffer stopped short of a real loss; and that special something that makes Eretz Yisrael different, even a geneivah in Eretz Yisrael. —


(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 961)

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