Jeremy M Staiman

Better than Vegas: Angels close to home

That time we were up 600 NIS, then down 700, and finally pleased to end off better than we had begun
(Vladimir Gnedin/iStock)
(Vladimir Gnedin/iStock)

I confess. I’ve been to Vegas.

It was, if I recall, a 35-minute stopover on a Southwest flight from Baltimore to Seattle. There were slot machines in the terminal, but gambling is not high on my estimable litany of vices, so I don’t think I even bet a quarter.

I do know a guy who knows about gambling. He’ll go to the casino and he’ll play smart. He knows which games to play, and how to play them so that the odds are as favorable as possible. He often leaves with more money in his pocket than he came with.

On those occasions when he leaves with a lighter pocket than when he arrived, he hasn’t lost more than his self-imposed limit for the day. He knows when to walk away. To paraphrase Kenny Rogers, he knows when to hold ‘em, and he knows when to fold ‘em.

Although I’m not in that world, I’ve watched enough TV to understand some of the lingo. “I’m up $50,” (a good thing) or “I’m down $200” (a much less good thing).

What does this have to do with the price of tea in China? (Or, for my UK friends: what does that have to do with the price of cheese?)

Hold that query. We’ll get back to it.

I promise.

* * *

A couple of months ago, we received a call out of the blue. It seems that some angel from a nearby neighborhood found an envelope with the name “Chana Staiman” on it. That’s my wife’s name. The envelope had clearly weathered the rainy season, been exposed to the elements, and was partially torn open.

There was cash inside.

How much cash? 600 shekels (around $160 USD). Not the kind of money required for a deposit on a home, but enough to finance a respectable trip to the local supermarket. Enough to fill a basket of groceries, and maybe even include a couple of chickens.

I referred to this caller as an angel because it would have been all too easy for him to stick the money in his pocket, and go on his way. No one was looking.

No one but G-d.

The man who had called was from a solidly Chareidi neighborhood. And though he likely didn’t have much money in the bank, there was never a question in his mind that he would look for the owner and return it to her. There was a Mitzvah to be done. It was money being entrusted to him, not to keep for his family, but to use as a mission.

Hashavat Aveida – returning a lost object. The angel never had a doubt that he would do his best to find my wife. Had he not succeeded, he would have put the money aside in a safe place, awaiting the day when Elijah the Prophet would come and act as a spiritual Waze, directing him to the rightful owner, at which time I can only imagine Elijah’s angelic voice declaring: “You have reached your destination!”

As we spoke on the phone about the cash-filled envelope, the angel expressed the desire to consult with his rabbi before proceeding, to make sure that the entire process was done strictly according to Jewish Law. That it ended up in the right hands.

There was one complication, but it was on our end. In addition to the name, there was something else written on the envelope. In Hebrew, it said: “Payment for a used wig.” My wife didn’t remember giving anyone a wig to sell, though she wondered if perhaps it had take place a few years ago, and she subsequently forgot all about it.

I consulted with my rabbi. We checked the internet and the local phone book. There were no other Chana Staimans to be found.

It had to be her money.

Satisfied that my wife was the owner, the young married man handed over the envelope to me.

I don’t know how angels think. I harbor a hope that he was proud of himself for going to great lengths to locate us and return the money.

He was shocked when I rewarded him with 100 shekels in appreciation of his efforts. At first, he refused to accept the gift, but I insisted, and I’m sure that the money came in handy in his doubtlessly-austere financial situation.

In Vegas terms, we were still up 500 shekels (a very good thing).

Image Owner: Staiman Design

But there’s another angel in this tale.

My lovely wife just couldn’t bring herself to touch the money. Since she didn’t specifically remember selling a wig, her conscience nagged at her, wondering if the money really belonged to someone else.

It sat for weeks and weeks, until it happened. A good friend of ours who lives in that Chareidei neighborhood heard the story and said: “I think there’s a Staiman family in our area.”

One connection led to another, and we connected with a woman whose name is remarkably close to my wife’s. We looked back at the envelope, and saw that the handwriting on the envelope could indeed be read as this other woman’s name too.


The envelope

The woman with the remarkably similar name identified the envelope, and told us that she knew that it had 600 shekels in it. She had sold the wig, and lost the envelope somewhere. She assumed that the money was gone forever.

But she wasn’t counting on the angels.

* * *

So now, it seems like we’re down 600 shekels. No, make that 700 shekels, counting the 100 shekel reward I handed to the angel.

* * *

I once learned that Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch explains that our possessions only truly become ours when we sanctify them and use them properly. Somewhat counterintuitively, he explains – if I remember the quote correctly – “even the penny in your pocket does not become yours until you use it for a blessed purpose.”

New math. I give a dollar to charity, and even though I will never see it again, that dollar becomes mine for the first time. Imagine that.

That same new math tells me that I’m not actually down 600 shekel at all. It ended up in the right hands. So that puts me up 600 shekels.

Make that 700 shekels, counting the reward.

Better than Vegas.

And that’s a very, very, very good thing.

About the Author
Jeremy Staiman and his wife Chana made Aliya from Baltimore, MD in 2010 to Ramat Beit Shemesh. A graphic designer by trade, Jeremy is a music lover, and produces music on a regular basis -- one album every 40 years. He likes to spend time with his kids and grandkids slightly more often than that.
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