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Wednesday
Oct312018

THE INSPIRED THIEF

PART I

5770. Melbourne, Australia.

Like thousands of other young tourists who travel to distant Melbourne, Miki Mamon and Rafi Toledano also went to Australia to tour its length and breadth. Rafi and Miki had just finished their military service and they wanted to “clear their heads.” 

It was five months since they landed and with the help of Israeli chevra who arrived before them, they learned the ropes. They found decent housing and easy work which did not require any long-term investment. It all looked promising.

Among the “secrets” that the veterans shared, was the Chabad House for Hebrew-speakers, run by Rabbi Dudu Lieder; the Jewish center on the corner of Orrong and Balaclava (before it moved to its current quarters).

The warm atmosphere, the Shabbos meals, shiurim that touched the soul, it was all terrific. Miki and Rafi heard about the place and decided to check it out for themselves. They were quickly captivated. R’ Dudu welcomed them warmly and they soon felt at home.

In general, the Israeli tourists who go to Australia are different than the Israelis who go to the Far East. They don’t go for a month or two of adventures; they want a relaxed trip combined with temp work and it usually lasts a year or two. This creates a good opportunity to forge long term ties with the tourists, most of them with open minds, for better or worse, who are willing to listen to everything.

The visits to the Chabad House for Hebrew-speakers take on a more serious cast as does their consistent participation in shiurim. This leads many of them to do teshuva.

Over the years, R’ Lieder has been mekarev dozens of young people to Torah and Judaism. Many of them have become Lubavitcher Chassidim and some of them, even shluchim who are being mekarev the next generation of baalei teshuva.

PART II

Five months passed and one day Miki told R’ Dudu that he was going to sponsor the upcoming Shabbos meal which they made for tourists and visitors each week.

“What happened?” inquired R’ Dudu.

“This is the Shabbos before my father’s azkara (yahrtzait),” said Miki. “I want this important meal to be l’ilui nishmaso.

R’ Dudu shook his hand warmly. They arranged that on Thursday morning, Miki and Rafi would go to the nearby store and buy everything they needed for the meal. They would do the cooking and preparing themselves, in the Chabad House kitchen.

Wednesday of that week was particularly busy. Miki moved to a new apartment, an apartment for Israelis that was meant for young people who came for differing lengths of time. Late at night, Miki loaded his belongings into his car and drove over to the new apartment. Due to the late hour and exhaustion, Miki and Rafi decided to leave the car in the yard of the house and unload it the next morning.

Thursday morning, the two of them woke up and planned to go to the store, as they had arranged. Miki wanted to get dressed but discovered that his pants were not where he had left them. He looked all over the apartment but couldn’t find them.

His pants had disappeared not only from his room but from the apartment, along with the keys to the car that were in the pocket. They soon realized that the keys and pants had been stolen while they slept.

They went outside and saw the pants tossed haphazardly in the yard, and the car was not where they had left it the night before. Not only the car was stolen but all of Miki’s possessions too, everything. 

The two of them were stunned. They had no choice, for they had a lot to do. They decided to split up; Rafi went to the store to buy what was needed for the Shabbos meal, while Miki went to the police station to report the theft of his car. Rafi lent his bereft friend a pair of pants.

PART III

They met at the Chabad House a few hours later, still shaken up. They told R’ Lieder about the theft and bad feeling they had. R’ Lieder was himself taken aback and said it didn’t make sense. “How could someone who committed to donate a Shabbos meal be harmed in this way?”

A moment passed and he recovered and said, “Shluchei mitzva are not harmed,” he declared, repeating the words of the Sages, “and with Hashem’s help, it will all work out.” He patted Miki’s shoulder affectionately and tried to reassure him. “Don’t worry; you’ll see that it will all work out.

“Considering the situation, do you still want to donate the Shabbos meal?” he gently asked Miki. 

Miki swallowed hard, nervous about his uncertain financial situation, but finally said yes. “I committed, and I want to do it l’ilui nishmas my father.”

R’ Dudu’s encouraging words sank in and with a little bit of renewed energy they went to the kitchen to start preparing the food.

Miki found it hard though. His situation was really unpleasant; he had no clothes. He was helped by Rafi who tried to cheer him up and rouse his emuna and hope.

PART IV

Friday.

The two of them returned from work. On the way, the phone in Rafi’s car rang. It was R’ Dudu.

“What does the key to your car look like?” came the unexpected question.

Miki described the keychain and the car key.

“Come to the Chabad House; your key is here. And the car …”

Their hearts skipped a beat. At first, they couldn’t believe the news, but they realized that R’ Lieder wasn’t kidding. They turned around and went to the Chabad House.

“We were in shock, but not really,” said Rafi. “Deep in our hearts we knew that R’ Dudu’s message of faith would come true, as he had promised the day before.”

When they arrived at the Chabad House, Miki was thrilled to see his car parked there, and it contained all his belongings. Not only his belongings, but also other people’s belongings that had been stolen.

R’ Dudu greeted them.

“What happened?” they peppered him with questions.

R’ Dudu smiled. “A thief entered your home and took the keys and fled with the car. Then today, we took our ‘tanks’ on mivtzaim, as we do on Fridays.”

R’ Lieder’s “tanks,” for those who know, are decorated with a big picture of the Rebbe and with messages about keeping mitzvos.

“The thief was driving your car about fifteen minutes away from the Chabad House. He was heading toward the highway that leads out of the city. Then, our tank drove in front of him and he suddenly saw the Rebbe looking at him. He tried to ignore it but was unsuccessful. The holy gaze pierced him.

“The thief began honking at the driver of the ‘tank.’ The driver moved to the next lane to let the car pass, but the thief continued to honk. The driver of the ‘tank’ stuck his head out and saw the driver of the car motioning vigorously for him to pull over.

“To the amazement of the ‘tank’ driver, a young man exited the car, went over to him and gave him a set of keys and told him, ‘These are the keys to this car. Bring them to R’ Dudu.’

“The driver couldn’t understand what was going on and asked what this was about. The car thief burst into tears and said he had stolen the car the day before and had stolen more things since. He was on his way to the highway leading out of Melbourne so he wouldn’t be caught, but the Rebbe’s gaze in the huge picture on the back of the ‘tank’ stopped him. No! He could not continue as though nothing happened.”

“Bring this to R’ Dudu and tell the guy I’m sorry.”

R’ Dudu finished the story by warmly hugging the flabbergasted Miki. “You see that shluchei mitzva are not harmed,” he said, and went off to take care of the final Shabbos preparations.

(I heard this story from Miki and Rafi)

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