In helfman

Rosh Hashanah 5775

By Rabbi Jordan Helfman.

A long time ago, there was a Jewish community in northern Ontario called Minyan.

Minyan was a little farming community, where everyone would get up early in the morning to tend to their sheep and cows.  They would check on their chickens and see to their fields.

Then, they would all gather by the light of the rising sun in their small synagogue.  All ten of them – the number of people, according to God, for which he would keep us safe.  Ten people.  A minyan.

See, when a minyan gathers in Judaism, a magical thing happens: When nine Jews are in a room together to pray, to study, to do good deeds… then, from deep inside, God sees brilliant lights of blessing and goodness in the  world, but the lights are small.  Insignificant as compared to all of the hatred, the meanness, the unfairness and the just plain ugliness that God often sees bubbling to the surface, blocking those lights of good.

But when the tenth person comes, suddenly the world looks different.  It is as if a huge spotlight, a powerful laser, shoots up from the collective souls all together in that room, and the ugliness and sorrow are as if they have vanished, their bubbly froth drowned out by the lights which have just united.

Now, this light only intensifies if there are more Jews in a room, working together to pray, to help, to study or to heal.  Think of the light which has been filling the world through the 10s and 10s of Jews in synagogues around the world right now.

With nine Jews, it doesn’t work.  And with eleven.  Well.. let me tell you a story about eleven.

In our town, Minyan, the ten Jews in the town gathered every evening, every morning and every afternoon to say their prayers.  Just like how we have a morning and evening minyan here every day at Holy Blossom Temple.  And whenever the tenth person would enter the room, the singing, which before this had been just OK, became fantastic.  No longer worried about what their own voice sounded like, everyone suddenly felt free to sing and harmonize and make the world a beautiful place through song.  As soon as the tenth person entered the room, the cares of the outside world disappeared – the sick cows, the bad weather and ruined crops, the taxes and the strangers… when number ten entered, it was as if the ten of them, that moment, that prayer, that song was the only thing that existed in the whole universe.

Then..  well, then, on a special Rosh Hashanah, the news came.  An eleventh person was moving to Minyan.  Don’t get me wrong –  Eleven was a wonderful person.  A skilled farmer that loved to talk to their animals.  Eleven had a beautiful voice to add to the communal worship.  Eleven even had a horse, which others could borrow to help bring goods to the local market.

And the first few months when Eleven was in town, all was normal and all was lovely.   When one of the ten lost a parent in a faraway land, there was a Minyan to say kaddish in praise of God’s name and in the parent’s memory.  When Shabbat came around, the minyan gathered an extra time, and when the tenth person entered the room, it still created an island of perfect peace.

But then, one day, during the harvest season, one of the eleven had a thought.  A thought that changed everything,  “I have quite a lot of work to do.  If I stay here and say my morning prayers, then I can get more work done. And with ten others, there will still be a minyan.“  So one of the eleven was not at the morning service.

There was a bit of a stir at the morning service when there were only nine present, but when the tenth entered the room, it was as if the world was whole again.  But.. some of the ten that was there had noticed that someone had stayed home they still had the wonderful feeling which came with ten.

And so, the next day, and the next day and the next day, the town of Minyan was unable to get a minyan.  Once it was seven who showed up.. and they sang  and prayed, pretending that nothing was wrong, but they could all hear their own voices, and it wasn’t ringing out like it used to.  Another day eight showed up, and they couldn’t help but think how busy they were – how it should have been them who stayed home.  And another day it was 9, and they felt the gap, the difference which just that one person makes.

On most Shabbats and most festivals, and even that next Rosh Hashanah, they were able to get 10, a minyan in the town of Minyan. But because everyone thought someone else would be there, on weekdays and on some Shabbatot, that special light of 10 Jews together was missing.

Now, I could tell you two endings to this story.

One ending where the eleventh, missing the experience that brought them to Minyan in the first place – moves away and starts a New Minyan just down the road.

Or, that this story has still not ended.  The responsibility is still on us to show up, to create community . To study together, pray together, to do social justice together and to sing together so that not one of our voices stands out and makes us feel uncomfortable.  That in a city with eleven Jews, it is harder to make a community than in a city with ten.  So that all of us, children, adults, grandparents:  we must do our best to be the tenth person walking in the room.  To bring renewal, bring joy and to bring light.  For when there are nine Jews in a room, then, from deep inside, God sees lights of blessing and goodness in the world, but the lights are small.  Insignificant as compared to all of the hatred, the meanness, the just plain ugliness on the surface.

But when the tenth person comes, suddenly the world looks different.  It is as if a huge spotlight shoots up from all those together in that room, and the ugliness and sorrow become as nothing, their constant darkness being filled by the light which has come from that special unity.  And so, this year, may it be for us.

Shanah Tovah.

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Showing 2 comments
  • Vanessa Melman Yakobson

    I find this to be a sweetly compelling reminder of the responsibility each of us has, and that it is such a risk to assume someone else will take care of things for us.

  • Yael Scutaru

    A wonderful story!

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