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The Best Action is Inaction

Yehudah K., a diamond dealer from Miami, sat in his office twirling his beard, as he always did when he was under stress. His coffee cup sat on the table, cold and bitter. His well-appointed office, with the ornate desk and leather chair that always gave him such satisfaction, now felt completely useless. For the thousandth time he wondered how he, the successful diamond dealer, could have fallen into such a classic trap.

For two years already he had been trying to unravel the mystery of how the con man had managed to earn his trust and absconded with hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of jewels. Just the day before, a senior detective from the police department had called and said that unfortunately, they could find no trace of the thief. “It seems that he is a very sophisticated criminal,” said the detective, half in explanation, half in apology.

The phone in his office rang again. It was the bank calling—one of many such calls he received ever since the theft, which threw his entire business in jeopardy. The banker was calling to remind him once more that his payment was past due.

Once again, Yehuda gravely took stock of the situation. Unless a miracle happened soon, he’d have to declare bankruptcy. How would he ever show his face to his creditors again? In the meantime, there was one more option to buy a little time—to roll over the loans.

Yehuda debated with himself whether to just declare bankruptcy or roll over the loan once again. He was advised that rather than rolling over many small loans, it would be better for him to take out one big loan with easy terms, just to have a little breathing room. Only this way could he repair the terrible damage done to him by the crook.

Yehuda consulted with numerous experts but still could not come to a decision. One advised him to declare bankruptcy, while another told him his best option would be to take out a bigger loan. Yehuda was confused, anxious and exhausted. He sat down and wrote out all his options with the pros and cons of each, and poured out his conflicted feelings about the situation. He took the letter and faxed it to the office of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, feeling a sense of relief. At least the hopelessness that surrounded him lifted somewhat.

The Rebbe’s answer was quick to arrive, and was somewhat surprising. The Rebbe negated every suggestion—including declaring bankruptcy and taking out a bigger loan. What then was he to do? The Rebbe did not specify.

Yehuda’s nerves were at a breaking point. What did the Rebbe have in mind? He sent another fax to the Rebbe, asking if the intention was that he do nothing for now. The Rebbe answered affirmatively, and added his blessing for success.

Days passed. Days filled with more calls to creditors, more anxiety and prayers for Yehuda. By nature it was difficult for him to remain passive and not take a single step. “Dear G-d, please help me,” was the barely articulate prayer that he mumbled over and over again.

The resolution was not long in coming, and from a completely unexpected direction. One day his phone rang, and an unfamiliar voice asked if the call was being recorded. “I have important information for you,” said the anonymous voice. Yehuda did not need to ask regarding what he was calling. He already understood. From the tone of the conversation, he thought it would be wise to record it, but he had no energy at the moment to do so.

A few moments passed and the con man himself got on the line. Yehuda gripped the receiver. Just hearing the man’s voice filled him with unbearable rage. “For the past few days I have been suffering from a guilty conscience because of the wrong I did to you,” the man said quietly. He would not reveal where he was, but he was ready to conclude the whole sorry matter. “I have no explanation for why, after two years, I suddenly feel guilt over what I did. But I have known no rest, day or night, and I want to put it behind me.”

Yehuda was surprised to learn that the word “conscience” existed in this man’s lexicon. “Tell me your bank number and I will deposit the full amount within the next few days,” the (former) swindler. He apologized again for the suffering he had caused.

Yehuda felt conflicted once more. Could he trust the man with his bank information? Something in the man’s voice made him sound sincere, but hadn’t he been fooled once before? He decided to give him the bank information for a little-used account that had no funds in it that he could steal.

After hanging up, Yehuda stared at the phone in shocked silence. The Rebbe knew to advise me not to take any steps for the time being, he mused.

Two days later, the entire sum he had lost was deposited into his account, with an additional sum to cover any damages.



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