Minyonman Is On His Way

They said he first appeared at a Maariv Service on June 11 2002. The blue-shirted, short man with biceps like bagels showed up at a minyon at Beit Hakdosh on 15th Street in Maple, New Jersey. The stranger jauntily strode into a typical minyon-minus-one situation, a shiva for old man Bendel. How could you miss him with his tight, Superman-blue T-shirt emblazoned with the four silver lightning bolts that formed an “M” - Topped with a baseball cap with a “10” on the bill.

The man with the “10” on his cap stuck out his hand, “Hi, I’m Minyonman”. Just like that. And it happened all over North America. THE SAME NIGHT!

The nine or more mortals prayed. He stood or sat as the ceremony dictated. His eyes closed. His Siddur opened, but the page stayed unturned throughout the service.

Nobody knew where his powers came from, but it was clear that something spiritually significant was going on. “Elijah must have taught him” said some observers. Others, usually Christian converts, were sure that he’d learned his tricks from - are you ready for this? - Santa Claus, the Christian giver of gifts who they say visits the entire Christian world in a single night.

One thing for sure, if nine worshipers at a bris, a Shiva, or a regular Maariv service sat around looking dejectedly at each other, Minyonman would appear. Cincinnati, Tupelo, Nome, Mexico City, or Chicago. Just when all seemed lost there was Minyonman to save the day. Where did he come from? Who knew? But he loved a minyon, they said, like Elijah loved a Seder.

Mainly, he completed the quorum at orthodox minions. But Conservative and Reform Jews swore they had been rescued by MinyonMAM, his sister. To them, she counted just as much as her brother.

You say, so what, big deal! You say usually, sure, there’s a 10th guy who shlepps in late. Drags himself in like he lingered too long over a corned beef on rye. Yeah, well what if I told you a guy in Cincinnati called his friend in Atlanta to tell him of yesterday’s minyon - “Minyonman showed up to save the day.........” And the Atlanta guy interrupts to say....., “But he was here, too, to make our minyon for the Greenberg Shiva!”

How could it be? The world is full of wonders, my rabbi says. And much of the world we see is unexplainable. Only enough is revealed to sell the illusion. Maybe the man with lightning bolts on his chest knew the Elijah trick - the simultaneous time bend concept. He’s here. He’s there. Doesn’t Eliyahu Hanovi go to approximately 1.2 million seders over several hours? There he sits - invisible - multiplied by one hundred thousand. We know that HE who taught the Prophet the mastery of coincidence is also omnipresent. Does he not live in a million hearts simultaneously?

And in some misty corner of the universe the Inventor of time whispered the secret into the ear of Minyonman.

So, if you’re sitting around the synagogue three minutes before sunset waiting, waiting. And if your heart yearns hard enough, there he is. “Hi, I’m Minyonman.”

Later, as the word got around, the Minyon-minus-one club got on the web - went to his site - clicked on “Urgent-Now” and he’s there. “Hi, I’m Minyonman.” Or you could call on your cell phone or you could just say his name. Even ATT automatic answering can do that trick. “Say yes if you wish us to try this number again.”

Or you could simply wish him to your minyon. The communications people haven’t figured this one out yet.

Once there, he didn’t say much more. Unlike Santa Claus, he passed up the snacks. And no, no schnapps, please. We understood. Maybe 800 simultaneous minyons that morning in North America. Who’s got time for schnapps and talk? A minyon somewhere was calling with frequency of apple trees budding in Spring or falling leaves in Autumn.

Funny though, he never came if only eight worshipers sat around. He came to make the tenth man. If six guys are shuffling around looking at each other - no need to await the legend. Or a sanctuary, or a shiva house full of mourners - no need for Minyonman. Evidently, there were rules to the game. The tenth man blessing was his. He would not set a single foot in home or synagogue or temple unless nine good men and true called him, through one medium or another.

Some, observing his demeanor and the page frozen during the entire service, claimed he couldn’t follow the minyon leader. Always he opened his prayer book to Adon Olam. He never turned the page. “I’m telling ya’ll,” said a minyoneer in Memphis, “he cain’t read Hebrew. he jus stans there and grins ‘cause he’s scored this great mitzvah.”

What difference did it make? HE who brought us to the valley of Sinai and tells us that ten worshipers multiply the power of prayer reads the heart like you read Adon Olam. Aleph bet, words, sentences are as superfluous as lace on a tallice. It’s like the old midrash about the illiterate shepherd boy. G-d judges the heart, not the head.

Some folks couldn’t see him. Some could. Just like some kids at the Seder saw Elijah sitting at the table as plain as Gefulte fish in a plate beside a dab of pinky horseradish. Usually, at a shiva minyon it was the bereaved relative who turned to friends and relatives after service and announced with a pride that transcended his grief, “He was here - Minyonman. Did you see him by the fireplace looking straight ahead? Our prayers were heard - you can believe it.”

Some say that if you’re lucky enough to be the last man - the blessed tenth man who has thereby freed up Minyonman to go elsewhere - you can see him rush away in a blaze of light.

Nowhere was such a supernatural creature cited in Talmud or Torah. There were witches and golems and angels and giants and many unworldly creatures who occasionally drifted into our world, but nobody thick and short in a tight blue shirt emblazoned with lightning bolts.

The rabbis, especially those who rejected mysticism, also scoffed at the simultaneous appearance of Mr. M, as they called him, at locations separated by thousands of miles.

Word got around. Some believed, some laughed.

“I see him,” said a mourner on the North side of Chicago - on Lasalle Street. “He’s sitting on the end of the sofa. He’s the guy in the blue shirt. WOW! Whatta shirt.”

“Yeah,” said a sour cynic who wanted the services to get started with or without the mitzvahed tenth man. “Watch this.” And he plopped down on the sofa. On the end, too. “Where is he now? Between the cushions?”

Doubt grew and wonder at his ubiquitous powers waned, until there came a week in early September and no sightings were reported. He’ll come back, they say, when we believe in him. So, at your next minyon, if a Jewish super hero in a blue shirt sticks out his hand and says, “Hi, I’m Minyonman”, say “yes, I know - I’m glad you’re here. And I love your shirt.”