Plain/Plane Thievery

Friday, 28 December, 2018 - 3:20 am

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By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

It felt surreal to be sent to the waiting room at the immigration in Israel. The young immigration officer had asked me a number of questions. ‘I see you sometimes come to Israel for only twenty-four hours, why?’ I explained that indeed, a few weeks ago I had come for one day to attend a funeral. A while before that, I had come for a day and a half for a wedding. This didn’t allay her doubts and I was sent to wait in the side room as she did further investigation. Thank G-d it didn’t take all that long and I was handed back my passport with an immigration permit.

It was a minor annoyance. It came on the heels of a delayed flight. An inexplicable headache that was getting stronger. My fedora hat that was had been bent out of shape. It had fallen under my computer bag in the overhead compartment, although I was sure I hadn’t place it there that clumsily.

The worst part of the trip was yet to become known to me.

I had come to Israel to attend a memorial gathering and after getting settled in the hotel, I was ready to set out to the Har Hamenuchot cemetery to lead the prayers.

In my computer bag I had a considerable amount of cash that was intended to alleviate the plight of a particular needy family. Before I left the hotel room I thought it would be prudent to put the cash into the safe.

I rummaged through my bag to get the envelope with the money. I looked again. I took everything out of my bag. I searched my other bag. I turned the bags over and felt every surface. No money. Strange. I had hidden it away in my bag. It had been tucked into a place that was not easy to reach. But I couldn’t find it.

There is a tradition that when one loses something one gives money to Tzedaka and the merit of the tzedaka helps to find the lost item. I took some shekels and put them aside for charity.

The tzedaka helped. A few minutes later I found it. ‘It’ in this case refers to the envelope in which the cash had been placed. I remembered it because I had folded it a certain way before I hid it in my bag. But it was empty. It was very helpful to find that envelope because it allowed me to realize what had happened.

I had been robbed. On the plane. I had slept deeply for five hours. Sitting up straight in my economy class seat. At the time, after waking up from a deep non-interrupted five-hour sleep, I was amazed at how well I had slept. Now I wonder if I had slept too deeply. Someone obviously went into my bag and combed through its contents. That would explain why my hat which had been placed by me on top of my bag, landed up under it. Someone had obviously pilfered from my bag as I sat on that Royal Jordanian flight. Did they somehow manage to induce my sleep? Maybe my headache came from that? Too much of a conspiracy theory here. Especially when taking into account that I hadn’t drunk anything before I fell asleep. Not even a cup of water.

Bottom line. I had a lousy flight. Irksome delay from midnight to 3am. Robbed on the way. Massive headache on arrival. Inexplicable hesitation by border control to allow me into the country. Actually the waiting time in the border room was a blessing in disguise. After a few cups of water from the water cooler my headache started dissipating. But the money theft once discovered was difficult to perceive as a blessing.

I cannot say I was totally untroubled by all this. I was certainly not dancing in the streets with joy. However, I know that G-d’s Divine Providence runs every detail of our lives and thus I was not overly distressed. it was more of a feeling of ‘what is this meant to teach me’ rather than ‘why did this happen’. And I was worried about helping this family that was relying on the funds I was bringing for them.

As all of this sunk in I was able to reflect on the events and think about it more objectively. Nothing that happened was really all that unusual. A quick google search told me that theft in airplanes is not uncommon. A call to my travel agent got me confirmation of that. The airline told my agent that while they are aware that this takes place, there is nothing they can do about this phenomenon. Getting stopped at the border for a secondary check happens to many people. As a non-Israeli passport holder the immigration agent wanted to be prudent before allowing me in. Delays and headaches certainly happen all the time. Things not working out the way you anticipate is a reality for so many people. Why was I making a big deal of it?

The realization came to be with clarity.

I had become used to miraculous success. So used to it actually, that when things didn’t glide along extraordinarily it left me feeling that something was wrong. Even when arguably it could be written off as ‘that’s life’.

Hmm. This got me thinking further. Why didn’t the supernatural success accompany me this time? Was I somehow less spiritually attuned? Why hadn’t I merited to the undeserved Divine Providence that accompanied me so regularly and eased my way through the twists and turns of life?

The Jewish tradition of asking a Tzadik to pray on your behalf is well-known. My wife had asked me before I left whether I had written my customary note to be placed at the Rebbe’s Ohel. She asked me three times to be precise. Each time I answered that I had written. And that was the truth of course. But deep down I knew that it was only partially true. The note I had written about my upcoming trip was part of a blessing request written last week. Usually, just before my flight I write a separate note just for the trip. Trips require so much blessing. I had not really prepared spiritually in the same way I usually do.

I am not saying I was punished for that. Not at all. I hadn’t done anything wrong. And nothing unnaturally or extraordinarily bad had happened to me. Everything that happened is explainable by the laws of averages and plausibility’s.

Simply, I was not lifted onto the wings of obvious Divine supernatural success during the first stage of my trip. It was almost like Heaven was saying ‘you want it your way, without turning to G-d in prayer for obvious Divine accompaniment, have it your way. See how the natural order of this world doesn’t always smile’. And then a series of unpleasant - albeit purely natural - events happened.

Of course once I realized my mistake, I immediately sent a note to be read at the holy space of the Rebbe’s resting place.

The results were swift in coming. I mentioned my predicament to my philanthropic friend who was hosting the memorial event and he immediately undertook to replace those funds so that the poor family would be helped. I breathed a huge sigh of relief.

And then everything else started to return to the blessed pattern I have become accustomed to. All my appointments and meetings started falling into place with the kind of precision that is an obvious sign of revealed Divine Providence. It feels so humbling to be the recipient of this kind of unearned benevolence from the Almighty.

Thank you Hashem for allowing me to ‘wake up and smell the coffee’ as the saying goes. To be reminded of how important it is to be mindful and aware of our dependence on G-d for every single nuance of our lives!

Here is what I want to leave you with.

First of all, a practical tip. I just learned, after twenty-five years of travel, that the thievery on planes is something to be reckoned with. When traveling with valuables and cash, they need to be guarded more closely.

Another message for life that I would like to highlight. Don’t take for granted the blessings that are already part of your ‘package’. A potent analogy of this would be that you only truly appreciate the working pipes in your home, when the plumbing in the house goes awry. A problematic toilet makes you aware of what has been taken for granted for so long.

Don’t wait for something to go wrong G-d forbid, to begin to sing praises to G-d for all the things in your life that are working. There is so much that is a blessing and ‘on-track’. Appreciate it and thank G-d for it.

Furthermore, what I learned most uniquely from these events that occurred to me on my trip, is the power and importance of prayer. Perhaps even more importantly, I wish to highlight the need stay away from the pitfall of lethargy and inaction in not taking engaging fully and connecting to the power of prayer to G-d.

One of the fascinating misconception I have come across is as follows. Some people think prayer should be reserved for the ‘big things’ in life. Like health and other serious business like that. They seem to think it will be too much of a ‘burden’ to mention the ‘smaller stuff’ to G-d and that somehow they should just grin it, bear it and sweat it out.

It reminds me of this telling analogy. A fellow was trudging along the road from yehoopitz to yenehekvelt. Along came a wagon and offered him a ride. Thankfully our weary hiker climbed onto the carriage. The magnanimous host told his guest to make himself comfortable and put his heavy backpack down on the floor of the carriage. The guest responded ‘I so appreciate that you are giving me a ride, I wouldn’t want to take further advantage and make your horse shlep the extra weight of the bag as well’.

Sounds foolish. Sometimes we do the same. Sure, for the ‘big things’ of life we turn to G-d. For health and major things obviously we need to turn to Hashem. For the ‘small things’ we seem to sometimes tell him ‘G-d, I don’t want to burden you with the small things, its kind enough of you to handle the ‘big things’’. Most of us don’t say this consciously, but sometimes we do say it subconsciously.  

My dear friend.

May G-d guide you and carry you on His wings. May G-d carry the Jewish people on the ‘wings of eagles’ to the much awaited time of our Redemption with the righteous Mashiach.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

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