"The Bankrupting Shabbos Break-in"
Connection: The Torah reading of Mishpatim contains most of the civil law commandments about money and theft.
Story in PDF format for more convenient printing
THE BANKRUPTING SHABBOS BREAK-IN
It was Autumn 2018/5779, the Shabbos of the Torah reading, Chaya Sarah. I (R. Yosef Shidler) at the time, was enjoying a Friday night meal with my family at our home in Lakewood, New Jersey. It felt like any other Shabbos in our home. We finished our meal at the usual time, and went to sleep after reading a very interesting Baal Shem Tov story.
KNOCK, KNOCK, KNOCK!
It was early Shabbos morning, and we were woken up by the loud banging at the front door.
'Who could it be?' I thought to myself.
It was my next door neighbor, who looked very worried. "R' Yosef, you better come out right away! It looks like someone broke into your car. It doesn't look good, R' Yosef. It actually looks really bad!"
I couldn't believe what I was hearing. My wife and I quickly got dressed and made our way out to the car.
My neighbor was right. The car was a mess. Someone had broken the car window in order to get in, but that wasn't the worst part.
You see, my wife and I run a photography business. We take pictures and videos for people on their most special days. Before Shabbos, I'd left well over $10,000 in cameras and gear for taking pictures in that car. When my neighbor told me about the break in, I was very worried, and when I got to my car, my worst fears quickly came true.
Everything was gone. All I could see was broken glass everywhere, all over the seats and the floors, and not a single camera in sight. It was terrible. I knew right away that this was truly a bad situation.
We needed help, but it was Shabbos; we couldn't just phone the police., My wife volunteered to find a non-Jewish person to call the police for us. Thank G-d, she succeeded, and a group of policemen came a short time later.
"It's definitely a break-in, all right," the police officer said, looking at our poor car.
"It's very nice that you figured that out," I replied, a little annoyed he would say something so obvious and unhelpful. "What do we do now? I need those cameras back - they're important and expensive, and I can't do my job without them!"
"You'll meet with someone at the police station tonight. Hopefully, they'll help you get this worked out."
The police left the house, and that's when all of the sadness and anger came crashing down for my wife and I. We'd just lost a lot of money. How were we supposed to run a photography business now, with no cameras and no money to buy more?
My wife turned to me and said, "You know, I was speaking with some of the neighbors down the street, and they saw the robber break into our car, but they decided not to call the police. They didn't think it was the right thing to do on Shabbos. But they totally could have called and saved the situation! Why should that be considered chilul [profanation of] Shabbos? Instead, they just watched it happen!"
She was clearly upset. I was too, but I tried to calm myself, realizing that I needed to think about the situation like a chasid.
"I hear you," I answered her, "but let's do our best to be chasidim. The Alter Rebbe says in Tanya that we shouldn't even think a bad thought about another Jew! They were trying to do the right thing. This was how they wanted to please G-d. We should not judge them negatively; they didn't steal anything."
"You're right," she agreed. "It wasn't their fault. It's all hashgacha pratis ('divine supervision of the individual'). Anyway, surely our insurance will pay us back, G-d willing."
My wife was right. We had insurance that was supposed to help out if, G-D forbid, something like this ever happened. However, I also knew insurance companies would only pay you back for lost or broken things if you gave them serial numbers for each item. (A serial number is a number given to each item in the factory once it's made. It's like each camera's own unique i.d.)
I'd given the insurance company serial numbers for most of my cameras and gear, but I hadn't given them numbers for many of the newer and more expensive items. This made me very nervous. 'Would they still pay me back for the stolen things?' I worried. I wasn't sure. We could end up losing all of it. It would cost me thousands of dollars to buy everything again.
Deep down, I knew all of this was the will of G-d, just as my wife had said, but it was hard to feel better about it. I went on with my day, trying to have strong emunah (faith) and bitachon (trust) in G-d, that He would make everything work out well for us, but I have to admit, it was very, very, very hard for me. My whole business relied on those cameras. Without it, I had no way to earn enough money to support my family!
Shabbos continued as usual, but after the meal, my nervous thoughts became too hard to handle. So I did what any Chassid would do. I stood in front of a picture of the Lubavitcher Rebbe and said, "Rebbe, I know that Hashem made this happen, but it's getting to be too hard for me. Please let me know everything will work out okay!"
And with that, I pulled out at random one book of Igros Kodesh, the multi-volume set of the Lubavitcher Rebbe's holy correspondence. I opened the book to a random page and read the letter printed on it.
In it, the Rebbe was responding to someone who had written to him about how he was having a hard time making a living. The Rebbe responded that if it were someone else, he could understand why they were complaining. "But you," the Rebbe said in the letter, "you believe in G-d!" The Rebbe then went on to write that it would soon be clear that the whole problem was just a test, and that "you will see brachos (blessings) for you, your family, and your business."
'Wow. What an amazingly clear answer!' I thought to myself. I couldn't believe it! 'It's like this was written just for me!'
At that point, I felt so much joy! My wife and kids were at the park, so in high spirits I danced my way there to share the good news!
"What happened?" asked my wife, laughing. "Did they find the cameras?"
"No!" I continued dancing, while other parents and their kids kept staring. I didn't care. I was too excited!
"So, what's with the dancing?"
"The Rebbe gave us a blessing! I'm sure we'll get our cameras back - and everything else, too!" That was all I said, and I believed it completely.
I sat in shul that afternoon, participating with another 15 or 20 men in the Third Shabbat Meal, telling everyone about the incredible letter I received.
"Yeah, okay. Very nice, Yosef. Let's see what happens," one man said.
It was easy for me to tell that people didn't accept my conclusions. But I believed in the Rebbe's blessings more strongly than ever.
"Sir. Ma'am." The detective looked my wife and I in the eyes at the police station. It was after Shabbos, and our appointment had finally come around.
"I'm afraid it's highly unlikely that we'll find your cameras. We see these types of break-ins and robberies often, and I'll tell ya, there's a 98% chance we won't find it." He shook his head back and forth while he spoke, as if he felt sorry for us. "But we'll try. When we make our rounds, we'll keep an eye out for your stuff."
It wasn't the most helpful meeting, but I still had faith in the Rebbe's blessing that everything would work out. I wasn't going to let anything get me down.
* * *
A few months earlier, the airlines had advertised a special price for plane tickets to Europe. I'd bought tickets to go to Ukraine with my wife to visit the burial sites of the first and second Chabad Rebbes - the Alter Rebbe in Hadditch, the Mitteler Rebbe in Niezhyn, and [the founder of chassidism,] the Ba'al Shem Tov in Mezibuz. As it turned out, Heaven had planned for this trip to happen just two weeks after the robbery.
We arrived safely in Ukraine, b"H, after a long plane ride across the world.
After a restful night in the city of Kiev, we made the journey to Nezhin and the ohel (enclosed area) of the Mitteler Rebbe. It was a cold Ukrainian winter, and snow was all over the ground. The grave was in a field outside a city. It was dark and quiet, in a very empty cemetery. Inside the ohel, it was freezing. After 30 minutes of davvening (prayer), we continued - traveling for the next 4 hours to Hadditch. We were really looking forward to the chance to davven in another holy place.
When we got to the city of Hadditch, we were surprised to see that the Alter Rebbe's ohel was completely empty, just like the Mitteler Rebbe's ohel had been. So, we began our prayers right away. We stood there together, reading aloud Tehillim (Psalms) for hours on end. It was such a special feeling, being able to connect with a tzadik (pure, holy person) as great as the Alter Rebbe while standing next to his grave.
There's a really nice guesthouse next to the Alter Rebbe's grave in Hadditch, and that was where we were staying. So, after finishing to recite Tehillim, we headed back to the hotel in the early hours of the morning.
My wife began getting ready for bed, while I took out my laptop to write an email to my insurance company, asking for an update on whether or not they were going to give us money to replace the stolen items.
All of a sudden, at around 3:00 AM, my wife's cell phone rang.
"This is detective Eric from the Lakewood police," he quickly identified himself. "We think we found the gear! We're pretty sure we found your husband's camera equipment!"
She was too shocked to say anything. Overhearing, I was too! (I wondered if he knew it was 3 in the morning here - it was still only 8pm there.)
The policeman continued. "We found it in a pawn shop in Tom's River, not far from your home."
This was where the miracle got a whole lot bigger. Let me explain.
You may never have heard of a pawn shop before. It's basically a store that lends money to people, in return for something worth more money than they're taking from the shop. This way, if they don't come back in time to pay the money back, the store owner can sell whatever the person left them, making back the money they lent, plus a lot more.
"And you people are really lucky," said the detective. "We got
to it just in time! If we'd found it tomorrow, the shop owner would've already
sold it, and we wouldn't have been able to do a thing about it!"
"We have a law here in New Jersey that, when someone comes to the police claiming they've had items stolen from them, the police have 10 days to check pawn shops to see if the missing items ended up there. But 10 days after the claim is made, the pawn shop owner is legally allowed to sell the items. So, if we'd gotten here even a day later, we wouldn't have been able to take your gear from the pawn shop. It would have belonged to the store owner."
My wife and I looked at each other, our mouths open wide in surprise. We simply couldn't believe our ears! Right after we came out of the ohel of the Alter Rebbe, after hours of davvening in that holy place, after working so hard on ourselves to have full emunah and bitachon, and while I was in the middle of writing to the insurance company!...we were given a miracle.
The police also found the robber who broke into my car. Thank G-d, he won't be bothering anyone else in Lakewood!
* * *
Sounds like a nice miracle, right? But it doesn't end there.
The funny part is, I only realized the extent to which it was a miracle after it happened.
At the time of the theft, my wife and I had two beautiful girls. The following autumn, we were blessed thanks to G-d's kindness, with our first baby boy. We were on our way home from the hospital with our wonderful new baby when a picture popped up on my phone, along with the words "One year ago today."
In the photo, I was standing next to my wife outside the ohel of the Alter Rebbe in Hadditch, the very night we'd prayed so hard that my gear would be found.
Can you believe it? Exactly one year later, on the same date, our first baby boy came into the world. That's when I remembered the end of the letter, when the Rebbe wrote that "you will see brachos, for you, your family, and your business."
I thought that we'd gone through a serious challenge - a real test! I was beyond excited when our stolen things were returned to us. But I never would have thought such a big blessing would come from this challenge -- that every part of the Rebbe's letter would come true in such a clear way! To me, this was such an amazing miracle, and I was so thankful!
So yeah, I guess you could say that I'm lucky enough to see miracles. But believe me - you can, too! I think if we open our eyes to what is going on around us, and we strengthen our emunah and bitachon and believe G-d will take care of us, we'd see His miracles all the time!
May we all be blessed with revealed miracles - many revealed miracles! And,
most importantly, may we be blessed with the coming of Moshiach right now. As
it says in Micha, "As in the days of your going out of Egypt, I will
show you wonders."
Source: I first heard this story from R' Yosef Shidler a few years ago, when he told it to my wife and I during Melaveh Malka (The Saturday night "Fourth Meal") at our home in Tsfat during one of his visits to Israel. I begged him to write it down. Finally he did. I spent some time editing it and sent it to him to check, and here it is "set out before you" (see Rashi's commentary on the first verse of this week's reading, Mishpatim). It's one of my longest stories yet, so I hope you too will find it worth it.
Why this week? The Torah reading of Mishpatim contains most of the civil law commandments about money and theft.
The author adds:
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