The door slammed hard behind the distancing figure. Gavriel strode vigorously, trying to get as far from his home as soon and as fast as he could. A cab driver stopped for him on the main road, intuiting through his professional eye that the stranger needed a quick trip.
"Where to, Mister?" he asked, sticking his head out the window.
"The airport," Gavriel replied, thrusting his suitcase into the baggage compartment and sliding into the back seat.
"Traveling abroad?" the cabbie inquired in a friendly tone. "For how long?"
"Hmmm, I don't know yet. I'll see..."
"You haven't decided?" the driver asked in surprise. "What about your family? They don't know when you'll be coming back?"
A quick glance at his passenger's face from his mirror told the cabbie that he was treading on sensitive ground and decided, for a change, not to pursue the subject.
The trip passed quickly and Gavriel found himself waiting inside Ben Gurion airport. His flight to Los Angeles would be leaving in forty minutes. Meanwhile, he leaned his head back, allowing the events of the past few days to float up before his eyes...
It had been a regular night six weeks before. He had been sitting in front of his computer, surfing indiscriminately. He had been entangled in the web for a long time already, wandering in murky sites. It began with an innocent use of the Internet equipped with a weak, minimal screening. He enjoyed writing and corresponding through various forums, keeping himself to unproblematic subjects but his curiosity had sucked him into other places which the feeble screening had enabled. He could go to all kinds of websites which swept him into murky worlds.
His life morphed into a split identity. On the surface, he retained the appearance of an average ben Torah, but evil things were worming their way into his psyche, eating away and causing rot and decay. He was still aware enough that he was treading on dangerous ground and wanted to wean himself from this obsession, but he felt too weak to fight. He was, in fact, already addicted, and altogether swept into the abyss of virtual spiritual oblivion.
In order to hide his doings from the family, he would sit with his back to the wall, setting a hard disk of "Otzar Hachochma" by his side, as if he were involved in Torah-related inquiry and correspondence.
On that night, he surfed randomly throughout the Internet, oblivious of the passing hours. At one point, he succumbed to sleep, as his head glided onto the keyboard. When he awoke in alarm, it was already morning and he found his wife and children staring in alarm, both at him and the screen.
His strange behavior had already sent warning signals but at this point, he could hide his actions no longer. It was very clear that this was not a one-time aberration but the key to his abnormal actions of the past weeks.
He looked at his family in silence, got up and left the house. When he returned that night, he had decided to lay his cards on the table and stop the deception. "So I am hooked. That's where I am," he confessed to his wife, "and I intend to stay there. You'll have to make your peace with the situation."
But his wife refused to capitulate. She took the news very badly and life in the home became unbearable. She believed that together, they could fight the battle with professional help but he felt he was already too far gone and incapable of changing.
Full of self-hate and bitterness, he became remote and silent. Within a short time, he reached the extreme decision to simply pick himself up and leave home. He chose Los Angeles as a place where he would be unlikely to meet acquaintances who would bother him with embarrassing questions.
"Shalom Aleichem," the gabbai welcomed the guest warmly. "From where does a Yid hail?"
"From Eretz Yisroel. I've come to live here."
"Do you have family?"
"Mmm, no, not here."
"Do you have an occupation, a job?"
"Actually, not at the moment but I have some money that will tide me over for a short period until I find myself a job."
"I'd be happy to help. I'll ask around and let you know if I find anything."
The gabbai turned away and sank into thought. He called up a friend from Eretz Yisroel and asked him to inquire about the stranger. Two days later, the gabbai approached Gavriel with a suggestion.
"I think I have an idea for you."
"Tell me about it, please."
"There's an organization here which assists visiting roshei yeshiva and kollel heads to raise funds for their institutions among local businessmen. Many of the visiting fundraisers can only communicate in Hebrew and need someone to accompany them as their interpreter. This organization is looking for men who are comfortable in both English and Hebrew. You may be good for such a job, which pays well."
"It sounds good. I know English well and such a job appeals to me."
Gavriel quickly learned the ropes of his new occupation. The only setback was that the contact with Israelis aroused deep feelings of longing for his family. Before accepting any client, he would inquire about his name and city so as not to meet someone who knew him. The new job kept him very busy, leaving him with the night hours for his obsession with the Internet. He couldn't fight it, even though he hated it and despised himself for his weakness while feeling helplessly and hopelessly entangled.
Within a month, he had already acquired knowledge about donors as well as the many kinds of institutions — chessed organizations, help for the sick, Torah institutions — which sent fundraisers.
On one particular day, he was scheduled to accompany a gabbai of a well-known charity fund. He met him, exchanged several words of courtesy and off they went with a driver who was familiar with the addresses of gvirim. They arrived at their first stop and the visitor began his spiel. "I am collecting for several trust funds for widows and orphans in Eretz Yisroel."
Gavriel duly translated the opening statement.
The visitor continued, "We have here a very tragic case. It doesn't involve a widow, but something much worse. This is a woman whose husband left his wife and disappeared..."
Gavriel's voice wavered as he translated.
"He left her just like that? He suddenly disappeared?"
"Let me tell you more about this case," said the gabbai very quietly, tears forming in his eyes. "The husband got entangled in the Internet and became deeply sunken into it. When his wife discovered it, she begged him to go for professional help but he refused. The atmosphere in the home became unbearable to the point that he picked himself up and disappeared. The wife came to us in tears and said that she prays intensely, all the time, that Hashem purify her husband's heart and bring him back to his family."
Gavriel made a huge effort to control himself and swallow the lump in his throat but suddenly, he burst into hysterical tears. And then he blurted in a choked voice,
"Never mind. Don't give for this particular case; there is no longer a need. The husband will return to his home and support his family again."
The two men were bewildered by the strange outburst and stared at him in surprise.
"I thought you would have guessed by now. That woman's prayers have been answered. Hashem has purified my heart and sent this good gabbai to reunite me with my family."