BUSINESS WAS GOOD for Mendel Silver, the well-known philanthropist from the United States. He seemed to have that golden touch, and whatever he did was blessed with success, baruch Hashem. He could purchase an old, decrepit hat shop in an alley in New York City and transform it within half a year to a bustling wholesale enterprise. Why, ten years ago, he purchased a shoemaker’s workshop in Manhattan, and within a year it had expanded to a sandal factory with worldwide sales! Word was that he had at least ten profitable businesses, although no one could say for sure. Yes, things were going very well for Mendel Silver.
Despite his wealth, Mendel Silver was a simple, roly-poly, folksy type; he had a ready grin and a rolling laugh and lacked the regular airs most wealthy men put on. With him, there was no hanging around in the waiting room of his office for two hours for a measly ten dollar donation. His veteran secretary, Margalit Sheninson, had strict instructions: “Anyone who comes for a donation gets a minimum of one hundred dollars, even if he looks like a faker. And if I’m in the office, even in an important meeting, don’t make him wait more than five minutes. Let him into my office; I’ll talk to him and give him what he needs.”
Silver was a generous philanthropist, but he was no fool either. From time to time he would fly to Israel and make the rounds to several kollelim and yeshivos in order to verify that his donations indeed went towards supporting the Torah world. Incidentally, he never informed anyone that he was coming; he simply landed in Israel, settled down in a beis medrash there, and observed the goings-on.
His personal assistant was a young, energetic fellow by the name of Naftali Nachman Zucker. He accompanied Silver on all of his trips, taking care of the logistics. The two complemented each other well; Silver was a bit scatterbrained and disorganized, while Zucker was methodical, organized, and straight as an arrow.
Truth to be told, Silver was no great lamdan, and his daily dose of Torah consisted of a few chapters of Tehillim, a daily halachah, and some mishnayos. Zucker, on the other hand, sat down at one o’clock every afternoon, opened his Gemara, and began to learn out loud within Silver’s earshot so the latter wouldn’t forget what the sound and taste of Torah were like.
However, despite not being a scholar, Silver’s tefillos were definitely noteworthy.
“I don’t miss tefillah b’tzibbur, Zucker, you hear?” the wealthy man would scold his assistant. “Not Shacharis, not Minchah, not Maariv! I know that my world stands on three things: the Torah that I support; the chessed that I do secretly, and my tefillah with a minyan.”
Zucker, on the other hand, was less punctilious about davening with a minyan, and from time to time would grab a Minchah in the corridor, usually when Silver was out of the office for a meeting.
About two years ago, in the winter, Silver and Zucker landed in Ben Gurion Airport on flight 182 from New York. The time was one o’clock in the morning, and they needed to daven Maariv. There hadn’t been a minyan of frum Jews on the plane, and the two were rather nervous. Or, to put it more accurately, Silver was nervous.
“Let’s try and organize a minyan here in the airport,” he urged his assistant. But their efforts were futile, as the few frum people in the terminal had already davened.
“Let’s just daven ourselves,” Zucker murmured.
“Shame on you,” Silver chided him.
“Maybe we should go to the shtieblach in Bnei Brak,” Zucker suggested.
“No,” Silver insisted. “I feel a need to daven Maariv specifically in Yerushalayim. We have an early morning visit to make at one of the yeshivos there.”
“By the time we get to Yerushalayim, it will be almost two in the morning. I doubt we will find a minyan, even in Zichron Moshe…” Zucker grumbled.
“You’re a young, incurable pessimist, Zucker,” Silver retorted.
Zucker resigned himself to Silver’s whims; he was, after all, just the assistant, and Silver, the boss. They got into a taxi and headed for Yerushalayim. At 2:03 they entered Zichron Moshe. Deserted. Empty. Outside it was pouring heavily and a stormy wind whistled through the windows, blowing plastic bags and papers around eerily.
“Mr. Silver,” the exhausted Zucker whined, “be logical. It’s a winter night; the streets are empty. Everyone’s already davened Maariv. In order to get a minyan together, you’ll have to wake people up, and that’s gezel sheinah. Let’s just get it over with and daven ourselves. It’s no tragedy. We are anusim, forced into this situation, and thus are exempt from davening with a minyan.”
Mendel Silver paid no attention to his assistant’s whining and declared firmly, “There will be a minyan here, my boy; there will! I am going to go over to the aron kodesh and speak to my Father in Heaven for a few moments. He’ll send me eight tzaddikim for our minyan; you’ll see.”
Needless to say, Zucker was convinced that his jovial boss had simply gone a bit out of his mind, especially since the rain showed no signs of letup, and the thunder and lightning vied constantly for the upper hand outside.
The American philanthropist approached the paroches, pressed his face into it, and murmured quietly for several long moments. Then he turned to his assistant. “Okay, Zucker, my friend. Within ten minutes, we’re starting V’hu Rachum.“
Zucker just smiled compassionately in the direction of his boss.
Silver walked out of the shul, dialed a number on his cell phone, and conducted an animated conversation for about five minutes.
Zucker was sure that his boss had completely lost his sanity.
“I don’t understand you, Mr. Silver. How do you dare wake people up at night? There’s a limit to the desire to daven Maariv with a minyan!”
“Calm down, my boy; a few more minutes and we’re starting…”
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