Adventures of a Chief Rabbi: A Visit by Elijah?

November 3, 2013

A Visit by Elijah?

elijah_translationThe faucet of the heavens had been opened. There was no end in sight. The roads had turned into rivers. An “orange” warning had gone into effect, advising residents to stay home if possible. The forecast was just more of the same. I had Tamara drive me before Shabbat to the synagogue for Friday night services and told her to stay home with the kids. I would walk back on my own in the deluge after the services.

I did not have high expectations for a strong turnout. I knew the paid caretaker would be there. A couple of people who live across the street turned up, but we still didn’t have close to a minyan (the required quorum of ten men for communal prayer). One of the men had a yarhtzeit for his mother (anniversary of her death) and was anxious to say the mourners Kaddish (which can only be said with a minyan).

We waited a few minutes, and a couple of die-hard participants showed up, but still no minyan. I started the Kabalat Shabat part, the Psalms of King David that can be said and sung without a minyan. Finally, the ninth and tenth men entered. I’m not sure who came into the vestibule first. I suspect it was the old man. The elderly man whom I recognized shuffled in very slowly with his young grandson holding his hand. The ninth (or tenth) man had stepped into the main sanctuary before the old man. The big, clean-shaven man who must have been around my age walked in, siddur and kipah in hand, and sat himself in the back row. I had never seen him before nor did I recognize him. I tried to imagine who or what brought this stranger to the synagogue that night. I was the Hazan, so I couldn’t approach him and find out. He smiled at me frequently during my sermon. At the end of the services, after congratulating each individual that participated in our minyan of exactly ten and inviting everyone to the small Kiddush afterwards, I went to the back of the synagogue to greet him, but he disappeared. Not in any magical way. He simply slipped out quietly, not giving me a chance to say hello.

No one else seemed to know who he was, nor did they comment about the stranger or why this newcomer should show up on a night of such inclement weather.

As I recounted the story to friends Shabbat morning I was reminded of an old tale that whenever a group of nine men gather to pray and they cannot find the tenth man, eventually, and if they merit it, Elijah the Prophet himself comes to complete the minyan. Now I have been in many failed-nine-man-minyan-efforts, so I’ve plenty of occurrences to contradict the notion, but last night I felt there may have been something otherworldly at work that enabled us to complete the minyan as the skies sent their deluge, the winds howled and the thunder roared.

The guy didn’t look particularly Elijah-like. Not an old, thin, bearded holy man. He just looked like an average guy. But perhaps that is the point. Perhaps there is something of Elijah in everyone.

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