It was hard to believe that the wedding was only a week away, Yankel Kornfeld thought to himself as he entered the caterer’s office. With the whirlwind of preparations, logistics, and planning, he had almost forgotten about the $4500 advance payment for the food.
He began to write out the check, then sighed in frustration when he realized he had made a small mistake. The bank might overlook it, but then again, they might not, and he wasn’t looking for problems. Things were hectic enough already! He made out another check, handed it over to the caterer, and went on his way.
“Mr. Kornfeld?” the polished tones on the other end of the line set off warning bells inside Yankel’s head. Sure enough, his premonition was correct.
“I’m calling from Bank of America about a check that just came in from Klein Catering in Flatbush. Unfortunately, there aren’t enough funds in your account to cover the check. How would you like to proceed?”
Yankel was shocked. How could it be? He had double-checked the account just yesterday morning! A meeting with the bank manager showed exactly what the problem was. The original check—the one with the minor mistake on it—had been cashed. How careless he had been not to have torn up that first check, leaving the beneficiary’s name blank for unscrupulous individuals to claim! And when Yankel saw the name he felt faint.
Goldbaum, of all people! We daven in the same shul, and his son is a friend of my Avrumie! Who would ever have thought a Yid could stoop so low?
Yankel’s could hardly wrap his mind around it—a frum person seemed to have stolen nearly $5000 from him—and it was money he surely couldn’t spare. “You’ll need to file a police report if you want to reclaim your money,” the bank representative said. A quick call to the Rav yielded the answer Yankel expected: going to the police was definitely b’dieved.
His head was spinning, and he had to sit down on a bench outside the bank. His first instinct was to go home and tell his wife what had happened, and then make some phone calls. Goldbaum’s father-in-law ought to know, and his chavrusa, of course. Everyone in the community should be told what kind of person they were associating with—a thief! Moreover, Yankel reasoned, maybe the resulting public outcry would force Goldbaum to return the money to him.
He whipped out his cellphone in feverish determination—and paused, even as voices seemed to cry out in favor of teaching Goldbaum a lesson he’d never forget.
A long moment of struggle, and then Yankel made an agonizing decision: he would not tell anyone. Instead he decided to approach the culprit himself, confront him with the evidence, and ask for the money back. It wasn’t the comfortable thing to do, but it was the right thing. He squared his shoulders resolutely and dialed the number.
It was one thing to steal a large sum of money; it was another thing to pretend you could get away with it, Yankel fumed, as his tenth phone call was ignored. A wily character, this Goldbaum—he must have recognized the Kornfeld phone number on his caller ID and was ignoring the calls. Suddenly a familiar voice broke through.
“Hello?” Startled, Yankel, forgot his planned speech. “Uh, it’s Yankel Kornfeld,” he stammered. “It’s hard to get hold of you, Reb Boruch,” Boruch Goldbaum sighed. “It’s been a crazy week,” he said sadly. “I still can’t believe it, but I’m a victim of identity theft. It’s taking every moment of my time to set things straight. Believe me, it’s ruining my life!”
Imagine what would have happened if Yankel had decided to go ahead and tell people what Goldbaum had “done” to him. Not only would Goldbaum have been facing ruin as a victim of identity theft, he would also be the subject of vicious rumors and lose his reputation in the community! In this story, it is clear that Mr. Kornfeld gained something much more precious than he lost, as is often the case when one “guards his tongue from evil.