Within thirty seconds a father and his three sons had walked through the door. They looked up and asked if Silver and Zucker were waiting for a minyan. Their eyes lit up when they heard the response. They had just arrived back from England on a delayed flight and had not gotten to daven yet. Two minutes later a prestigious looking man walked in with the same question. He was a surgeon who had been stuck in a surgery with various complications that kept coming up. Another minute passed before two drenched yeshivah boys came in. They had gone to the north for the day and had gotten very lost on the way back and had been so nervous that they had completely forgotten to daven. In the next five minutes, eight of the nine assembled men kept glancing anxiously at the door. But Silver just smiled a reassuring smile.
And then, a young businessman walked in. He was excited to see the assembled minyan. He had worked extremely late that night in order to make a deadline and was going to daven by himself when he remembered that it was his father’s yahrtzeit.
Zucker’s mouth dropped open. It was less than ten minutes and eight other ordinary people with ordinary stories had walked in to complete their minyan. How had Silver known it would happen?
The next morning, after their early meeting, Zucker asked Silver to explain what had happened.
“Well, it’s nothing really unusual. When I was much younger, business was really bad for me. I couldn’t make ends meet. It was a tough life for me, and I felt like I needed to change something in my life.
Then, one Shabbos afternoon I went to the regular shiur that my rav gives before minchah. He told us a number of stories of how people had committed themselves to certain mitzvos and would never deviate from their commitment. He told us how these people’s lives were saved in miraculous ways, or how their lives simply improved. And, he mentioned how even in the most unlikely situations they were always able to fulfill that commitment. Whether it was kiddush levanah, saying tefillas haderech from a siddur, or simply having more kavanah while saying the brachah of Asher Yatzar.
I thought about that. I knew that I needed to commit myself to something.
You know how something will suddenly ‘hit home’ for you? Well, after minchah I sat down to say pirkei avos. I came across the mishnah ‘Al shlosha devarim ha’olam omeid. Al haTora, al ha’avodah v’al gemilus chasadim.’ That just resounded within me and I started to think. Torah. I’m not very good at that. Well, I can say tehillim and mishnayos. That’s what I was doing every day. But, if I can start to support Torah, now that would be a different direction I could take, but couldn’t afford. Avodah. Well, we all daven. I wanted something unique in that department. I was already working on my kavanah. And then it came to me. I would commit to always daven with a minyan. It was something I’ve tried to be careful about, but never committed to.
And so that is what I did. It wasn’t always easy, but with time things did in deed change. As I began to prosper, I took it upon myself to try and fulfill the rest of the mishnah to the best of my ability. I started to support Torah institutions and do various chasadim secretly.
Once I had made that commitment I’ve found that I never have to wait more than ten minutes for a minyan, no matter how unlikely the situation.”
Zucker was intrigued. Indeed, he needed help in his life to. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to finally settle down and start a family.
Silver noticed his thoughtful distraction throughout the rest of their trip. He, also, was not surprised at Zucker’s new commitment to davening with a minyan.
He was, however, just as surprised as everyone else, when four months later Zucker had gotten engaged.
And the real ending…
He was right. At exactly 2:27 a.m., an impressive convoy of no less than eight taxis pulled up to the Zichron Moshe shtiebel!
Zucker rubbed his eyes in disbelief. Silver bounded outside and motioned for the drivers to come in.
“Listen, my tzaddikim. I just finished talking to your dispatcher, Johnny Peretz, and I asked him to send me eight drivers who are Shabbos observant, no matter the price. Johnny thought that I’m nuts and didn’t believe me; it took me a good few minutes to persuade him, and here you are. And now, tell me, how much does an hour of waiting time cost at this time of the night?”
“One hundred shekels an hour,” said Shmulik Avrahami, the veteran among the drivers, with a smile. “But who are we waiting for and why do you need eight drivers here at the shtiebel at two-thirty in the morning?”
“Listen up, my friends. I will pay each of you fifty shekels for half an hour of waiting inside the shtiebel. All of you who haven’t davened Maariv, please raise your hands.” Six of the eight hands bashfully went up.
“Wonderful! Baruch Hashem, there’s a majority of a minyan here, and now, I’m asking you to please respond “amen” with all your hearts. Put on some kippot and come inside. Take siddurim. Zucker! Zucker, my friend, please go up to the amud…”
Mendel Silver’s Shemoneh Esrei lasted no less than seventeen minutes. There wasn’t a sick person he didn’t mention; a childless woman for whom he didn’t pray; a single boy or girl for whom he didn’t shed a tear. Yes, when Mendel Silver davened, it was no act; he would cry and plead, and it was apparent that he was engulfed body and soul in his prayers. His Maariv was definitely enviable.
The eight drivers from the Netivei Habirah Taxi Company stared at him in shock. They had never seen prayer like this before. Naftali Nachman Zucker closed his eyes on the bench beside the amud and dozed.
“Oseh shalom bi’miromav… Zucker, up you go! Say Kaddish Tiskabel.”
“Tiskabel tzeloshon… v’imru amen.”
After Aleinu, Silver motioned for the stunned drivers to sit down on the bench near the entrance.
“Thank you all; you’re wonderful people and you did me and Naftali Nachman Zucker here a great favor. We try not to miss out davening with a minyan, and in your merit we were able to have tefillah b’tzibbur tonight also. We landed two hours ago in Ben Gurion Airport and I have no Israeli money on me. I’ll give you four hundred dollars. In the morning, change the money, take fifty shekel each for your time, and divide the rest among you as a bonus from me, given to you with all my heart. Your davening is worth millions to me…”
The drivers looked at each other in shocked silence, until Shimon Amsalem, a young driver from Abu Tor, jumped up from his place, his eyes shining with admiration. “Excuse me, Mr. American,” he said. “We’re not foolish enough to sell this mitzvah for fifty or one hundred shekels. We earned a tefillas Maariv to our Creator, and we wouldn’t lose out on that. Keep your money or donate it to tzedakah. We thank you for teaching us how important tefillah is for a Jew, and I, Shimon Amsalem, pledge here and now, bli neder, to daven Minchah and Maariv b’tzibbur every day, even if it means forgoing a special trip to Dimona with a six hundred shekel fare.”
Everyone laughed and slapped Mendel Silver on the shoulder in camaraderie. Then, seven of the eight drivers started up their taxi engines and drove off into the freezing, holy Yerushalayim night. The eighth, Amsalem, would drive Silver and his assistant to their hotel.
“Naftali Nachman, my boy, baruch Hashem we’ve davened with a minyan, and we even gave others the zechus to daven. I plan to donate the money tomorrow to an avreich with eight children, for the eight taxis. But you, Zucker, my friend, have to knock it into your head: A person is led along the path he wishes to follow. But he has to want to go! Really want! And he shouldn’t give in to his inclination to daven by himself.”
Needless to say, to this day, Naftali Nachman Zucker doesn’t even entertain uttering the words, “Let’s daven ourselves.”
Well, of course not. Zucker learned a lesson—and how!