| Second Thoughts |

The Strange Case of the Missing Money

“You’re not a thief,” I said, “but you definitely have a faulty memory” 


Although I am not a very efficient landlord, my brief tenure as such led to a tantalizing mystery.

Some years ago, after my late mother-in-law moved into a senior residence home in Jerusalem, she asked me to rent out her regular apartment for her. We found a fine kollel couple, and entered into an arrangement with a rental of $1,000 per month.

For a full year after moving in, the young man personally brought me the rent faithfully every first of the month. During his visits, we would chat a bit, and I learned that his wife worked in computers, that he was a diligent student at a major kollel, and that although they had been married now for five years, they still had no children, though they were going to fertility specialists.

During the second year of their lease, that first-of-the-month routine began to fray. He would bring the rent money on the tenth, the 15th, or even later. And then one month he didn’t bring anything at all. I finally called him, and he assured me that the rent would be forthcoming in a few days.

The few days passed, and I heard nothing from him. Finally, on the 20th of the new month, he came to my door, $1,000 in hand. I thanked him, but asked him about the unpaid rent for the previous month. He seemed genuinely surprised: “But I paid you for that month.”

‘’I’m afraid you miscalculated,” I replied. “You definitely did not pay for that month.”

“I certainly did,” he said indignantly. “Are you saying I’m a thief?”

“You’re not a thief,” I said, “but you definitely have a faulty memory.”

“You are wrong,” he fumed, “completely wrong.” And he turned around and left in high dudgeon.

Our entire arrangement was verbal, I kept no books, gave no receipts, so I could prove nothing. And even if we went to a din Torah, it would simply be his word against mine, and on what basis could the dayanim make a decision? So I ascribed the matter to my own amateur management, and tried to forget the matter and absorb the loss — though there was not a scintilla of doubt that he owed the money.

For the next several months, he reverted to his regular first-of-the-month schedule, though he no longer appeared personally, and instead sent the payment through a friend. After a half year, he moved out.

One night, about two years later, a knock on my door. I opened it, and there stood the tenant of old, the kollel yungerman. I invited him in. He reached into his pocket, pulled out an envelope, and handed it to me.

“What is this?” I asked.

“Please open it,” he said.

I opened it, and out came ten one-hundred-dollar bills. I asked him why he suddenly decided to do this.

“I just wanted to do it. And please forgive me for my chutzpah that evening.”

We shook hands, and he left.

I was puzzled about his change of mind. Was it his conscience? Did he realize that he had been wrong? Four or five more years flew by, and the entire issue faded away.

Recently, at a morning minyan, I noticed a familiar face. It was the former tenant. After davening, I said good morning to him. He immediately recognized me, and greeted me very warmly. I asked him how things were going.

“Baruch Hashem, everything is fine, plus we now have a beautiful two-year-old baby boy,” he said with a huge smile.

During the day that followed, the mystery gradually revealed itself to me. The key was the fact that they finally had a child. Here is the scenario that my imagination constructed: After more years of childlessness and fruitless treatment by  fertility specialists, the couple sought a blessing from a leading rabbi. This rav pledged to daven for them, and added that if they had hurt anyone, they should ask for forgiveness, and that if they owed anyone any money, they should immediately repay the debt — all of which would add to their merit in the Divine scheme of things. This struck home to the young man, and was the catalyst behind his unexpected appearance at my door with the missing money.

Was my scenario on the mark, or did my imagination run away with me? Perhaps he simply realized he was wrong and decided to do teshuvah? I will never know, because, in the words of Jeremiah 17:9, “akov halev — convoluted is the human heart… who [but G-d] can know it?”

But one thing I do know: While I didn’t like being a landlord, it can certainly lead to surprising experiences.


(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 946)

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