This is an amazing incident that shows us the high level of mesrius nefesh an ordinary Jew can attain and how far the ripples of its influence can reach.
After Reuven, who was learning full time at Yeshiva, became engaged – a chassan, his father one day entrusted him with a large sum of cash in order to purchase a diamond ring for his kallah. Reuven set out on his mission Erev Shabbos in the late morning as he felt that this time would least interfere with his learning seder. Before leaving his father wished him well.
Even though hub of jewelry stores were usually only half hour bus ride, because of heavy roadwork, the trip took a much longer long. By the time Reuvan arrived at his destination he since the arrival of Shabbos was coming closer he quickly looked at a number of rings but he didn’t feel he had found the one he wanted to purchase. Reuvan strengthened his resolve that everything is from Heaven and ultimately for the good, turned around and began his trip back home. During the subway ride home, Reuvan began to feel a little tired so he closed his eyes, for what he thought would be a few minutes, however when he woke up he realized that he had well passed the stop for his home and now traveling in the wrong direction. With Shabbos soon approaching he quickly got off the train and hailed down a taxi. Unfortunately, the taxi moved like a snail as the traffic was very congested this time due to an accident that still wasn’t cleared. Reuvan realized that at this pace that he wouldn’t get home in time, so he started to review in his mind his halacic obligations in order to any transgression of Shabbos. Being it was the winter time with very short days, candle lighting was quickly approaching. Finally, a let up in the heavy traffic allowed them to move along at a jiffy pace reaching an area not so far from his house just minutes left till Shabbos. Reuvan decided he couldn’t chance staying in the taxi any longer so he immediately paid the driver thanked him and exited.
Now Reuven’s concern was the large sum of money that he had with him. He looked around him and saw that he had exited the taxi right in front of a large store that was open. He went in and looked around. It was full of salespeople and customers, but he saw an office off to the side and through the glass door, he could see an elderly man sitting behind a desk. Reuven knocked and entered. With a quick excuse for interrupting the man at his work, he explained that he was a religious Jew and would have to leave his wallet somewhere because it was just a few minutes until the Jewish Sabbath and he couldn’t carry it with him.
The man looked at him strangely but he apparently felt that Reuven was sincere and asked how he could be of service. Reuven said he was carrying a large sum of money and asked the man if he would hold it for him until after Shabbos. The man nodded, accepted Reuven’s wallet and placed it in an envelope. Reuven thanked the gentleman and left immediately.
Reuven walked briskly home, relieved that he had not transgressed the Shabbos. After Shabbos second thoughts assailed him and he berated himself for having given that man his money without any witnesses or receipt. Would he now even be able to find the man? Would the man admit to having received the money and most importantly, would he return it? These and other thoughts and suspicions filled his mind. With a deep resolve not to worry, for he felt he had done the right thing, he pushed away these worries and continued his learning.
The next day after davening Reuven returned to the store where he had left his wallet. There was the same man sitting behind his desk. He knocked and entered the office.
“Do you remember me?” Reuven asked.
“Yes,” the man said noncommittally.
“Can I now have my wallet back?” The elderly man looked Reuven in the eyes for what seemed like forever, stood up in silence and went into a back room. Reuven was tense, but he strengthened himself with the thought that he had managed to not transgress the Shabbos and that was worth more than money. After what seemed an eternity, the man came back with an envelope in his hand, which he turned over to Reuven. In it was Reuven’s wallet – intact.
Reuven was relieved, to put it mildly. He was also so overwhelmed by this man’s honesty, that he couldn’t withhold his admiration and praised him profusely. The elderly man then answered in a European Yiddish “Nu, what do expect from a fellow Jew?”
Reuven was astonished. He had no idea the man was a Jew. The elderly man, who was the owner of this business, then told Reuven: “After you left my store and all during Shabbos my conscious started hounding me. Through the harshness I experienced during Holocaust I had given up all signs of my Jewish ness, but your mesirus nefesh and dedication to the sanctity of the holy Shabbos now reawakened in me the will to do return to the ways of my tradition – teshuvah.” He then concluded: “ From now on, thanks to you, this store will be closed on Shabbos!”
They spontaneously fell into each other’s arms with tears in their eyes with Reuven now realizing what a great “investment” he had made after all. From that day on, for the first time in decades, this precious Jewish soul would again be “reinvesting” his life in the service of Hashem. Well – it came out that Reuvan did find a diamond after all that day – the diamond within the soul of that Jew.
As told to Y.B. & S.E. Falk by Rabbi H. Waxman