It was December of 1980. I was walking towards the Kotel, Judaism’s holiest site. I recalled that a Torah friend of mine had explained before I left New York
“No Jewish neshamah can withstand the powerful emotional connection with the Shechinah (Divine Presence) at the Kotel. The Wall will literally pull you into its warm holiness, and you will start to cry.”
As I got closer to the Wall, I asked myself in concern, “What if I don’t react and I don’t cry? Does that mean that because I am a ba’al teshuvah and I wasted 42 years on nonsense, that I am not privileged to shed tears during this metaphysical encounter?” I then remember the saying “When one prays for forgiveness, or for Hashem’s help, and tears accompany these prayers, Hashem listens to you more attentively.”
Let’s go back to the how and why of my 7,000 mile journey to the “Mount where Hashem is seen.” What motivated me to travel to Jerusalem? Was I on a holy pilgrimage? Did I have in mind the mitzvah of walking around the gates of Zion and counting her towers?
No! My motives for going to Israel had no religious basis. I traveled to the Holy Land for one reason only – to catch a thief!! I wanted to recover stolen merchandise.
A few weeks before, the district attorney’s office of the City of New York had incredibly allowed a jewelry merchant to leave the U.S. for a vacation to Israel after he had unlawfully relieved 40 gem and jewelry dealers out of approximately five million dollars of merchandise during one week’s rampage.
This merchant, who had been honest for over 20 years, acted with premeditation and total lack of conscience as he let his yetzer ha’ra (evil inclination) go wild. How could such a formerly righteous person make 40 mistakes in one week? He robbed 40 Jewish and non-Jewish merchants of about $120,000 worth of merchandise each.
At a meeting of the Diamond Dealers Club, we found out that the culprit has skipped to Israel. They decided to send me to Israel to try to find him, serve him with the proper warrants for his appearance in court and recover everyone’s merchandise.
After appearing in an Israeli court and making numerous unsuccessful trips to the country’s senior police officers, I accomplished nothing. I didn’t recover any merchandise, not did I find any trace of the thief. I was searching in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Years later, I found out that he was seen swimming in a hotel pool in Eilat.
Now let’s look at the bright side!
Every morning, before going out on my mission, I first went to the Kotel. Sure enough, the tears flowed down my cheeks as I stood before the Holy Shechinah. I prayed for my wife and children, and for everyone else who needed help. I felt Hashem’s Presence, and to this day, my neshamah has become more sensitive to the fulfillment of the Torah’s mitzvos. Had I not experienced the holiness of the Kotel, I do not know if my faith would be as strong as it is today.
Thus, the true importance of my trip to Israel became clear. I had gone to Israel to find a thief. Instead, I found my own neshamah.