Call for Help

Montana police got an unusual tip last week that helped foil a robbery.

In Missoula, Montana, a man broke into a car, only to get himself locked in the trunk.

So what do you do when you’re stuck in a dangerous situation? Yup. He called the police for help.

KGVO radio reported that Missoula Police Patrol Sergeant Colin Rose said 31-year-old Ryan Payne broke into a car through the trunk and didn’t realize it had a self-locking mechanism. Desperate, Payne called 911.

Sergeant Rose says police had to get help from a nearby business owner who had the key to let the man out.

Payne admitted to breaking into the car. He is now facing multiple misdemeanor charges, including criminal mischief for damage he did to the car while trying to get out.

Mischief indeed. He’s on his way to a new lockup.

It’s hard to say whether Missoula Police Sergeant Travis Welsh’s statement was meant as deadpan irony, or just rich in artlessness:

“My suggestion would be that people don’t commit crimes. Don’t try to get into cars that don’t belong to you. That seems like just kind of common sense,” Sergeant Welsh said.

Not all people are blessed with common sense, it seems. The observation was already old when Nicholas Amhurst quoted it in 1726, “There is not … a more uncommon thing in the world than common sense.”

Burglars seem to be stuck with not having common sense. Last October, in a clean getaway, Thousand Oaks California firefighters squeezed dish soap down a chimney where a suspected burglar got herself stuck. The lubricated suspect was finally extricated after a two-hour rescue effort.

The Gemara in Brachos says, “A burglar at the mouth of the tunnel calls upon Hashem.” He prays for help. Nothing would seem to make less sense than praying to Hashem to help do exactly what He told us not to do.

But this Chazal gives us several deep insights. For one thing, no matter how far a Jew may drift from the path, the pintele Yid lurks within.

And, while on the surface, praying to succeed in a robbery is the height (or is that the depth?) of hypocrisy, it shows that no one is ever completely lost to faith.

And before we jump to judge others, we should know that you don’t have to rob a store or a car or a house to be a thief.

The Torah (Bamidbar 5:6-7) says, “Tell the children of Israel: When a man or woman commits any of the sins against man to act treacherously against G-d, and that person is guilty, he shall confess the sin he committed, and repay the principal amount of his guilt, add its fifth to it, and give it to the one against whom he was guilty.”

This is the source of the mitzvah of Viduy, which is the starting point of all teshuvah. The Chiddushei Harim asks why, of all places, does the mitzvah of confessing one’s sins comes specifically in connection to robbery? If it was written here, there must be a lesson to be learned from the context.

He answers, “Every single time a person sins, it comes under the category of theft.” And he compares it to the Gemara (Brachos 35), “If someone benefits from this world without saying a brachah (without thanking Hashem) it is as though he stole from Hakadosh Baruch Hu.

And the Chiddushei Harim takes it a step further. “Anytime a person uses his life, his energy or his possessions to go against the will of Hashem, he is a thief.”

We are born and empowered with the free will to build or destroy, to follow the will of our Benefactor or betray the beneficence.

The Alter Vorka Rebbe said the reason Viduy on Yom Kippur follows the order of the alef-beis is “otherwise, we wouldn’t know when to stop!” So, now is a good time, as the saying goes, to start thinking about teshuvah and beat the holiday rush. L-rd knows, we’ve all been pilfering power from Him and misusing it.

Before you know it, we’re all going to be standing in shul, calling out to Hashem… to get us out of the trunks we’ve locked ourselves into!