Let Hashem Worry about the Money| September 20, 2022
I felt the blood drain from my face. I had heard of such scams, but I never thought it would happen to me
ur search for a new house last year took us on a wild odyssey through law enforcement, the banking system, and the insurance industry that in the end reminded us Who’s in charge of the world, and how much He treasures the mitzvah of tzedakah.
We had been looking for a larger house, for all the usual reasons, for years. We had a few basic requirements: It had to be big enough to accommodate our growing family, kein ayin hara; it had to have room for guests; and it had to be within walking distance of the Chabad center where I serve as the shaliach.
A great opportunity fell through on Erev Rosh Hashanah 2021, but during Chol Hamoed Succos we saw a great house on Zillow that would become available soon after Yom Tov. It was everything we wanted: perfect location, more bedrooms, larger kitchen, more seating in the dining room.
Baruch Hashem, in two weeks we had a contract, and in three weeks, we were approved for a mortgage.
My grandfather gave us a bridge loan of $200,000 so we wouldn’t have to sell our current house under pressure (and it still needed some work). The money was sitting comfortably in my checking account. We were all good to go.
The closing for the new house was set for Thursday, December 30, in the afternoon.
On Tuesday, December 21, my lawyer sent an email telling me the exact amount I needed for the closing. He asked me to wire it to his escrow account so that we would have no headaches the day of closing. Not a problem. Two days later, I went into the bank and went through the protocols for wiring $136,000 to his account.
On Friday, December 24, about one hour before Shabbos, my lawyer sent an email telling me the exact amount I needed for the closing. He asked me to prepare the checks ahead of time so there would be no headaches the day of closing.
Confused, I sent him an email saying that I had already sent the money.
Now he was confused. He wrote back asking me what I had sent.
I quickly called him on the phone. We realized instantly there had been an email hack. He was not the one who had sent me the first request.
I had wired $136,000 to a crook.
felt the blood drain from my face. I had heard of such scams, but I never thought it would happen to me. My mind began racing. It was 3:45 p.m. on Friday, December 24, and candle-lighting was in 27 minutes.
I ran to my local Chase bank, but it had already closed for the holiday weekend. The Bank of America branch, where I had wired the money, was closed as well.
I desperately called the police. The dispatcher said they would send someone as soon as they could. I told them I observed the Jewish Sabbath, which would begin in 15 minutes. They said they would try their best.
As I hurried home, thoughts came tumbling over each other. How could this happen to me? I am such a loser. I’d made so much progress stabilizing my finances over the past few years, dug out of huge debt. Why? Hashem, please help! How will I buy the house? How could I have made such a mistake? Any possible equity we had in our current house was all gone.
I came home to find the candles lit already. My wife immediately sensed something was up.
She followed me to the bedroom as I emptied my pockets of muktzeh.
I broke the news. “I made an error and wired all the money for the house to a crook. I am not sure what’s going to happen, but we will buy the house. And Hashem is in charge. Even when it hurts.”
The doorbell rang and a cop was at the door.
I went outside and unloaded my tale of woe to the officer as my kids watched through the front window. When I finished, he asked for clarification.
“When did the wire go out? This morning or this afternoon?”
When I told him it was two days before, his facial expression said it all. If it had been a few hours after the wire, they could have tried to track it down. But a few days later, there was really no chance of finding it.
“I am so sorry,” he said. “We will be in touch with you on Monday.”
Before going back into the house, I had to take a brief moment to pull myself together.
With my family watching, and the guests coming in an hour, I told myself, Now is the time. Everything I’ve ever learned about trusting that Hashem really runs this world was all a preparation for this moment. Game time.
Live it! And it has to be real. You can’t fake authenticity.
My family was waiting with open mouths when I got inside.
I gave them the limited information I had, and promised we would still buy the house and that everything would be okay. I talked with them about how Hashem tests us and that now we should focus on the gift of Shabbos.
With tears in our eyes, we talked about the difference between emunah and bitachon, faith and trust. Trust means we can rely on Hashem completely because He is in charge of everything. And as a loving Father, He only does good for us.
Soon the guests came and all was forgotten. We chatted for hours. By the end of the evening, one woman actually committed to putting her kids in a Jewish day school.
After a blissful 25-hour oasis, the pressure started. Calls, emails, texts, and contacts and more. Everyone and anyone that I thought could be helpful gave me the same wistful response. “I wish you had called last week right after the wire was sent. It’s too late.”
We prayed and prayed, trying to think of ways to bring down Hashem’s blessings in a revealed way.
We still had not given tzedakah from the prior year’s tax return (we filed really late), so we gave a donation. We finally put back up a mezuzah that had fallen off one of the basement bedroom doors. We went to the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s Ohel and poured out our hearts.
We weren’t getting this new house for selfish reasons — it was to host guests and simchahs and mitzvahs and more. We lived on a basic salary. How could we get out of this?
My friends felt horrible for me. One gave a me a brachah that I should merit to get back the money and give tzedakah from it for a good cause.
That night, my wife and I reviewed the situation and slowly began to accept the reality that the money simply wasn’t coming back. Yiush had set in.
It then dawned on us that if that were the case, then any money we got back would be new income — which would create an opportunity for tzedakah.
I asked my wife if she would commit to giving 10 percent of the total — $13,600 — to tzedakah. Without blinking, she agreed.
I called a fellow shaliach who maintains a fund that helps shluchim in extreme financial difficulties. After I told him the situation, he said there was a shaliach in a small town in Russia making a wedding in a few weeks who didn’t have the funds to pay for it.
I agreed, then remembered that the Rebbe once told someone to give maaser up front, before the deal is done. Better Hashem should owe you the 90 percent than you owe Hashem the 10 percent. So we borrowed $1,800 and sent it as a first installment toward the wedding.
Then, amazingly, we got a lead on our lost wired money. We learned that an hour after we had wired the money to Bank of America, it was sent to US Bank. But our brief elation turned back into frustration. We pressed US Bank for info, but that meant paperwork and bureaucracy.
A friend put us in touch with the FBI New York Field office, but when they heard the details, they said there was nothing to be done.
weekly study session in Chovos Halevavos with a member of our community became my lifeline. I stopped to reflect. Hashem is completely good, and this situation would be revealed good very soon. I wanted to retell this story to myself in a positive light, so I sent myself an email with all the good that had already come from the ordeal.
Wed, Dec 29, 2021, 11:14 AM
Brachos from Hashem because of this parshah
An opportunity to internalize the ideas of bitachon.
The opportunity to speak about bitachon to myself, my family, friends, and balabatim.
Calling on government officials and law enforcement and involving them in helping a shaliach.
Replacing a mezuzah in my house that had been down for a while.
Reminder that Hashem truly runs the world and everything is in His hands.
The money we have today is here only for today. There is no outsmarting the system or having guaranteed money in the long term. All deposits and withdrawals come from on High.
Speaking with my kids about bitachon and them seeing it in real action.
Committed to give maaser from the money once it is returned.
Visited the Ohel.
Davened with extra kavanah.
Actualized the idea of focusing completely on Shabbos when it arrives.
Connected with friends in discussing this.
Inspiring balabatim to live this life.
We got an update from US Bank. Within an hour after they had received the wire, it had been sent out to Signature Bank. But… the account it was sent to was a cryptocurrency exchange.
That dashed all hopes. Once money goes into crypto, it is untraceable. Gone. Game over.
G-d, You are not defined by rules of commerce. You re-create the world every moment. You make crypto and you make cash. You can do whatever you want. Please!
The night before the closing, I called a few close friends and told them the situation. Within a few hours, I got a few loans totaling $136,000. I wasn’t sure how I was going to pay them back, but I couldn’t back out of the purchase now.
At the closing the next day, the usual celebratory atmosphere was replaced by a cloud of sadness over our loss.
We went through New Year’s Eve and the weekend with no news, no leads. The contractor came to the new house on Monday to start work, and we had to tell him to hold off. We didn’t know what we could afford anymore.
On Thursday, January 6, more than two weeks after the wire had been sent, my cell phone rang. A police detective was on the line.
“Rabbi, we found your money,” he said. “Whatever prayers you said must’ve worked. It seems the money sat in that account for two weeks and was never turned into cryptocurrency.”
He then said that he had never seen such a story. “It never ends this way. Don’t repeat this story, because people might think it could happen again. It never will.”
Wow! Thank You, Hashem!
I called my wife to tell her the good news, and then, with tears in my eyes, I logged into PayPal and sent $11,800 for the wedding in Russia. We were so grateful for Hashem’s immense kindness. There are really no words to describe the swirl of emotions we went through.
When we could breathe again, we notified the contractor he could go back to work as planned.
ast-forward six weeks.
The construction was almost done at the new place, and we were almost all packed and ready to move in. One of our children was home from yeshivah, so I took him over to see the progress of the work.
When we walked into the house, my heart dropped. Water was everywhere. A pipe had burst, and water had been leaking throughout the first floor and into the basement. The brand-new floors in the living room and dining room were ruined, and everything downstairs was underwater.
Oy! Hashem, what do You want from us?
The contractor quickly fixed the pipe, and a restoration company came to start ripping stuff out.
I called our insurance broker to find out how to file a claim, and he started laughing. We were not covered by the policy. It specifically said that we had one month from closing to move in, or else it was not an owner-occupied residence. We needed to have had specific insurance to cover any extended construction. We should have told him that the construction was taking longer than anticipated.
I called a public adjustor for his opinion. He said he didn’t mind taking the case, but they would deny the claim, and in the best-case scenario we could possibly get $10,000. Other friends in the insurance industry told me the same thing.
We hired the adjustor, and he let us know that the insurance company wanted to see the house as is, before repairs. So all work on the house had to stop for three weeks until they could show up.
By that time we had a mold issue, as the damaged flooring and sub-flooring didn’t dry thoroughly. Everything was only getting worse. Bills were piling up, and all the money we had for other projects got sucked into this.
Trying to put a positive light on things, my wife and I agreed we would give 10 percent of any insurance proceeds to tzedakah. And we davened. And we waited.
The contractor and restoration company finished what they could so we could move into the house a few days before Pesach. During this time, I was wondering to myself why this process had been so complicated. The wire fraud, the broken pipe… What did Hashem want from us?
And then a light bulb came on in my head.
The Rebbe directed that in the tefillos of Erev Rosh Hashanah, one should include the total of how much he gave to tzedakah the past year. So I opened up my banking app and did a quick calculation. Wow! Between the stimulus checks, tax returns, some side gigs, plus our regular maaser amount, it all added up to a number I didn’t imagine was within our abilities to give. But Baruch Hashem, we were able to do it.
I had written down that number on Erev Rosh Hashanah and asked Hashem for a brachah that we should be able to repeat that amount in the coming year. Even though there would be no more stimulus checks and the side gigs were almost done, we should still have the ability to give that amount to tzedakah.
But then I had paused and thought, Hey… why stop there? Hashem, I would like to be able to give double last year’s amount.
Although it was completely beyond the bounds of what was reasonable, that’s what I did. Who was I to tell Hashem how to do math? Let Him worry about how to get me the money.
I had written down the actual amount of tzedakah we would like to contribute, and sent myself an email set to pop up in my Gmail account the coming year on Erev Rosh Hashanah 2022 so I could see what happened.
An hour after I left the Ohel, I completely forgot about my deal with Hashem. Maybe because for that chain of events to actually occur seemed so farfetched.
As I remembered those moments nine months later, it dawned on me. All these events were just pieces in Hashem’s plan to help us reach that goal. Of course we were going to get a nice check from the insurance company! How cool is Hashem!
A week after Shavuos, on June 13, we received a settlement for $51,000. After the adjuster took his cut, that left us about $46,000, which meant $4,600 for maaser. Add that $4,600 to the $13,600 we pledged from the recovered wire fraud, and we were well on the road to our tzedakah goal.
ow we needed to sell our old house.
It needed some work before we put it on the market, and that could only start once we moved out — which of course took extra time, due to the problems at the new house. We had finally moved out the week before Pesach, and right after Yom Tov, the contractor told us the work in the old house would take twice as long as we thought. Aggravation.
We had been hoping to sell the house for $630,000, which would pay off the mortgage and closing costs, and leave us some profit to cover the down payment and agent fees for the new house. But now we had to postpone putting it on the market.
Amazingly, as the work progressed and the weeks went by, the market kept going higher and higher. When everything was ready at the end of May, we put it on the market for $775,000. This was going to be great!
But then we waited. Nothing, no bites. So we lowered the price.
Then mortgage rates started to creep higher and higher.
I kept learning Chovos Halevavos. I kept trying to internalize: I can’t earn a dollar more or less, a day earlier or later, than what Hashem wants for me. I am in good hands. He knows what He is doing.
Deep down, I knew that somehow the house would be sold before Rosh Hashanah. But for three months it sat there, and the one offer we got fell through right away. Iyar and Sivan came and went. Tammuz was about to end, leaving us 60 days until Rosh Hashanah. Getting from contract to closing can take 90 days. So we lowered the price again.
Finally, a few hours before the Nine Days began, we went to contract for $720,000, which was still $90,000 more than our original dream number.
But best of all, they wanted to close within 30 days. On 28 Av, we walked out of the lawyer’s office with the checks in our pocket.
After all the dust settled, the profit on the house was $200,550, which meant another $20,055 for tzedakah. The amount I had asked on Erev Rosh Hashanah to be able to give to tzedakah became a reality.
When I think back on this whole saga, I realize that I am a regular guy. I don’t have access to huge funds. The rules of nature don’t allow someone in my income bracket to give that amount to tzedakah.
But here we stand one year later, Erev Rosh Hashanah 2022. We bought a beautiful new home, got through two potential disasters in ways we couldn’t have imagined, and sold our old house.
As you stand in front of Hashem this year before Rosh Hashanah, write down a number you’d like to give to tzedakah. Challenge Hashem to do His part. Month by month, do the best you can in fulfilling your side of the deal. And then do a drop more. Hashem will take care of the rest.
I can’t wait to see what happens this coming year.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 929)
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