The Mushuginah Minyan
It was Sabbath morning, and there were only nine men at synagogue Bais Simcha in Sunshine, Florida, a little town west of Miami.
Every time the front door opened, nine pairs of eyes were pulled to it like fasting men were drawn to a bagel and lox after Yom Kippur. Without ten men, the Torah could not be taken out and seven aliyahs given. Without ten men, the Amida, the eighteen universal prayers, with a 19th thrown in for extra measure, could not be said out loud. Without ten men, Michael Fein, the richest Jew in town, president of the synagogue, could not say kaddish for his dear departed mother.
Time was running out. It was now 11:00 AM, and if a tenth man did not arrive soon, the prayer service would be cut short. Michael Fein wondered, with only nine men, would God listen to their prayers? Yes, of course, He would listen. But wouldn’t the Holy One, Blessed be He, listen much harder if there were ten men? Michael considered another urgent matter – how would my mother feel about me not being able to say kaddish for her? Even from the grave she could make guilt flood his heart like an oil well gusher.
When little five year old Dovid Senterfeld opened the front doors, 18 eyes went to him.Then nine mouths pursed their lips, and nine heads shook back and forth. A boy had to be thirteen to count in a minyon. Dovid ran through the sanctuary, to the back room, where his friends were breaking toys and biting their playmates.
When Rebecca Levi, the Rabbi’s wife, opened the front doors, 18 eyes were drawn to her also. Nine mouths smiled, before nine heads shook back and forth and sighed with disappointment. Women were respected and honored in the Jewish religion. They were serenaded by their husbands every Friday night with a beautiful song from King Solomon entitled “A Woman of Valor.” But still, women did not figure in a minyan. It had to be at least ten men. Not nine men and one woman. Not ten women and one man. Ten men or more. Period.
Why were only men counted in a minyan? Who knows? You should ask God when you see Him, if the answer is still important to you when you get there. To Michael Fein, it was not important, but critical to get ten men now. He could hear his mother’s high pitched voice, from the grave. “What’s the matter, Tottilah, don’t you love me enough to provide a simple kaddish? I carried you, gave birth to you – twenty hours of unbearable pain – then after your father died, I worked my fingers to the nubs, so you would not go without.”
At 11:15 AM, just as Rabbi Levi was about to end the prayer service and dismiss the congregation, the front doors opened once more … and a stranger walked in. He was a heavy-set man, thirtyish, dressed in jeans and a stained white shirt. He had a short, trimmed beard and was wearing a yarmulke outside synagogue, which meant he was seriously Jewish. The tenth man had arrived, even though no one had a clue as to who he was.
“Bring out the Torah!” Rabbi Levi shouted. The Rabbi was fortyish, thin, dressed in an all black suit with a clean starched white shirt. He had a long, full beard that had never been cut.
While the men inside the synagogue scurried about with their preparations to read the Torah on this holy Shabbos morning, the stranger turned around, the front door still open, and walked out.
Nine men looked at one another in horror. 18 eyes looked beseechingly at the Rabbi, each eye asking in Silent Eye Language, “Now what?”
The doors opened once again, and the stranger walked back in pulling a child’s stroller behind him, with one bent wheel that squeaked. Sitting in the stroller was a two year old girl. The stranger unbuckled her seatbelt, and lifted her out of the stroller. She immediately ran over to see what the Rabbi was doing.
She had long brown curly hair, large brown eyes, a cute little nose bent slightly upward, and soft red lips that curled slightly downward. She wore a soiled pink dress, only one white sock, and scuffed patent leather shoes. Her disheveled condition was noticed only by Rebecca Levi, not by the men.
She was one of the most beautiful children that anyone had ever seen walking, or running, into Bais Simcha, cuter than any doll. Her father was blessed, each man thought, as they stared down at this striking little bundle of energy, and then looked over at her father.
While Rabbi Levi was frantically searching for the week’s Torah portion inside the parchment scroll that was more than a hundred feet long, the little girl stood beside him and pulled on his trousers. The Rabbi looked down, and when he saw the little girl’s angelic face, he melted like a stick of butter in a hot frying pan.
“Well what do we have here?!” the Rabbi said. “What is your name?”
“Minn… dddd… eee.”
Rabbi Levi looked over at her father, who now approached the bima.
“Her name is Mindy,” the stranger explained.
“Mindelah! Mindelah! What a beautiful name for a beautiful girl!” the Rabbi said, smiling down at her.
Mindy smiled up at him.
Rabbi Levi found the correct place on the Torah scroll to begin reading, and then looked around the congregation, and asked, “Do we have a Cohaine here?”
Michael Fein strode up to the bima. He was not a Cohaine, a member of the elite priestly class of Jews, but a Levite. The Cohaine was customarily accorded the honor of the first aliyah, but since there were no Cohaines in Sunshine, the first aliyah always went to a Levite, and that was Michael Fein.
“I’m a Cohaine,” the stranger offered.
Michael Fein stopped dead in his tracks like a possum cornered by a bobcat, and scowled. How could this be, he thought. I always get the first aliyah.
“What is your Hebrew name?” Rabbi Levi asked the stranger.
“Moshe ben Aaron,” the stranger answered.
Mindy took this opportunity to lay down on the floor, next to her father, and scream, “Aaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhh!” at the top of her little lungs, which were not so little, judging by the wall of sound that emanated from her cute little lips.
Her father ignored her and began reciting the prayer before the reading of the Torah. “Baruchoo et adonoy hamivorach.”
“Aaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhh!” Mindy screeched, kicking her legs and scuffing her little patent leather shoes even more.
It was customary for the congregation to answer, “Baruch adonoy hamivorach leeolom vawed.” However, no one answered. Everyone was mesmerized by Mindy laying on the floor, executing an Olympic gold medal temper tantrum.
Rabbi Levi, alone, answered Moshe ben Aaron HaCohaine’s blessing, and then sighed deeply. He looked over to where his wife was, hoping for assistance, but she was gone now, preparing a Shabbos meal for fifteen to twenty-five that would show up.
Moshe ben Aaron HaCohaine continued with the rest of the blessing for the reading of the Torah, and then Rabbi Levi read the parsha in Hebrew. The only one who listened to him was Mindy’s father. The other eight men were holding their ears, in aural torment.
When Moshe ben Aaron’s aliyah was finished, he went to the last row and sat down. Mindy stood up, wiped away her tears, and went over to her father. He hoisted her up on his lap, reached into his pocket, and took out a box of Good and Plenty candy. He handed his daughter a white candy, she put it in her mouth, and then spit it out. The moist sloppy candy hit eighty-two year old Shlomo Feinberg on the back of his bald head. He wiped off the goo, and continued praying.
“NOTHER!” she shouted at her father, as Michael Fein approached the bima for the second aliyah.
Mindy’s father gave her a pink candy. Mindy took it, looked at it, scowled, then threw it back at him.
Mindy only liked the white Good and Plenty’s, even though the pink ones are known to taste exactly like the white ones.
There were no more candies in the box, and that ruined Mindy’s morning. She cried and twisted her body like a snake until her father put her down, whereupon she ran to the front door.
Rabbi Levi winced while reading the second Torah portion, because Mindy opened the front door, and then slammed it shut. She slammed it again. And again. And again.
After the fourth slam, Michael Fein had enough.
“What’s the matter with you? Can’t you control your child!” he yelled at the Moshe Ben Aaron HaCohaine. “She’s making everyone mushuginah!”
Moshe ben Aaron Hacohane blushed a bright red. Then he stood up, quietly, without uttering a word of rebuttal to Michael Fein. He walked to the front door, scooped Mindy into his arms, placed her back in the stroller, with one bent wheel that squeaked, buckled her little seat belt, opened the door, and left.
The congregation was down to nine men again.
“What do we do now?” Michael Fein asked the Rabbi.
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Copyright 2012 by Zalman Velvel Inc.
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