It was an ordinary Tuesday afternoon when I nonchalantly strolled along the picturesque waterfront of the ancient port city of Jaffa. Seaworthy fishing skiffs bobbed in the harbor and a soft breeze bathed the air with the smell of the sea. As I leaned against the seawall, I could make out the silhouette of sails gliding along the horizon. What a perfect place to enjoy a magnificent day.
Eventually I left my idyllic spot, leaving moments of reverie in my wake. As planned, I wended my way toward Jaffa’s popular flea market known as Shuk Hapishpeshim. Located only a half dozen blocks from the port, it took only minutes to navigate from the serenity of the sea to a cacophony of sights, sounds, and scents of the shuk. What a jarring contrast. Little did I know that it was there, in that discordant place, that I would find what the Kabbalists call, the Divine Presence.
As I meandered along the narrow streets and alleyways encircling and intertwining the shuk, I noticed three of four locals hurrying toward a trinket shop close to where I stood. I thought nothing of it until additional stragglers hurried by me and entered the shop. Since they were all wearing kippot, it dawned on me that they were gathering to make a minyan for the mincha service. Since it was during the eleven months during which I was still saying kaddish for my mother z”l, I decided to take the opportunity to join them.
As I entered the shop, which was more like a stall than a store, heads turned toward me out of curiosity, as I was obviously a newcomer to their make-shift minyan. Despite the fact I had visited Israel dozens of times, my attire and manner declared, “American tourist.” One of the men approached me and asked if I was there to say the kaddish, to which I replied I was. He immediately shunted me from the back of the store to the front, handed me a siddur, and thumbed to the page containing the end of service Mourner’s Kaddish, even though they were currently reciting the opening prayer of Ashrei. I assumed he wanted me to be prepared when the time came to say kaddish. When we reached the page containing the kaddish prayer, the leader gestured for everyone to slow down during its recitation, as an obvious accommodation for me. Unbeknownst to him I knew the kaddish by heart and could have easily kept pace with them.
I never learned his name, nor he mine, but I felt a bond and a connection of time and place with him and the other members of the minyan. His act of unsolicited kindness, helping me fulfill my obligation, reinforced my understanding of the importance of a minyan. As the saying goes, “Nine great rabbis cannot make a minyan, but ten simple shoemakers can.”
Today, more than ever the need for unity and concern for each other is of prime importance. Through prayer we attach to G-d but with a minyan we attach to each other. When we congregate, we are like family. And as in families, a parent yearns to see all their children treat each other with chesed, kindness. There is nothing intrinsically holy about an empty synagogue, but it becomes a holy space when we congregate in it. We refer to a synagogue in Hebrew as a beit Knesset, which means a “house of gathering.” That mundane characterization of a holy space could just as aptly apply to a pub, theater, or ballpark. But our Chasidic rabbis teach that wherever ten people congregate to pray it becomes a holy space because it is a place where you connect with G-d and people as well.
Our sages explain that the spark of HaShem is within all of us, but when we come together as a community, the spark of HaShem increases ten-fold, thus we make room, a holy place, for Him to enter.