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Abraham's Synagogue

Abraham's Synagogue

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Ark for Torah scrolls in the synagogue in Hebron.
Ark for Torah scrolls in the synagogue in Hebron.

Many years ago, in the old city of Hebron, on the road to the Cave of Machpelah, the burial place of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs, there was a small Jewish settlement. So few Jews lived there that they did not even have a regular minyan (prayer quorum of ten) for Shabbat.

Only occasionally, if they were fortunate enough to "catch" a Jew or Jews visiting the famous, historic Cave of Machpelah, did they manage to pray with a minyan. At such times the Jews of the settlement were simply overjoyed, for they were very anxious to serve G‑d in the best way they could.

One year, they were particularly troubled because Yom Kippur was approaching with no prospect of being able to get a minyan together.

The day of Yom Kippur eve came, and they were still one Jew short of the required ten to make up a congregation.

The Jews of the settlement began to feel desperate, and busy as they were, they scattered towards all the main roads, hoping against hope that even at this late hour a miracle would happen and they would find a tenth Jew to complete the minyan.

The sun was rapidly sinking, as their hearts too were sinking, and they returned home and prepared to go to their small shul to pray, minyan or no minyan.

The man who was acting as chazan (cantor) was just about to begin the prayer when, to the astonishment of all present, in walked an old Jew, dressed in old, plain clothes, his back bent, with a sack slung over his shoulder.

They all felt like embracing him, but the hour was too serious for such things. Their thoughts all concentrated on the sacred chanting of the age-old, haunting melodies and soulful prayers.

The shamash (beadle) would have liked to talk to this mysterious visitor after the Service was over, but the stranger seemed so deep in his thoughts and prayers, that the shamash decided to leave him undisturbed.

The visitor spent the night in shul as did most of the other worshippers. As you have already learned, the Jews of the settlement were very pious and G‑d fearing, and they humbly thanked the Almighty for having graciously answered their prayer by sending them a tenth Jew, so that they could pray with a minyan on this holiest of days--Yom Kippur.

As soon as Yom Kippur was over, there was almost a rush to get to the strange old man who had appeared like an angel from heaven. Everyone wanted to have the honor of taking him home with them to break the fast. They almost began to quarrel, till the shamash very wisely suggested that the fairest solution would be to "cast lots."

Everyone agreed. To the great joy of the shamash, who was a great Torah scholar, he was the lucky one to have the honor of being host to their visitor.

The shamash was anxious to please his guest, and did not bother him with questions. All that the shamash was able to get out of the old man was that his name was Abraham. They walked out of shul together, and the shamash was satisfied to carry on a more or less one-sided conversation.

All of a sudden the shamash felt an ominous stillness and, peering in the darkness of the night, he realized he was alone! His guest had disappeared!

Horror of horrors! What had happened to Abraham?

"Abraham! Abraham!" the shamash called out, frantically running this way and that. But there was no response, and no sign of Abraham.

Sadly, and with a heavy heart of misgiving, the shamash quickly retraced his steps and told the Jews who were on their way home from shul of the terrible thing that had happened.

The poor shamash was desolate. The good Jews of the settlement were as concerned as the shamash to find their lost visitor, so they all set out with torches, afraid he might have stumbled into a well, or came to grief, G‑d forbid.

After hours of searching without results, they all turned sadly home. The shamash, though, could find no rest, and only as dawn was breaking, did he finally fall into a troubled sleep, out of sheer exhaustion.

He had hardly closed his eyes, it seemed to him, when Abraham appeared to him. But now he was most beautifully dressed and he looked radiant.

"Do not worry, my friend," he said gently to the shamash. "As you see, I am perfectly alright. I am the Patriarch Abraham.

"Your prayers reached me here in the Cave of Machpelah and I came to you so that you should have the spiritual satisfaction of praying on Yom Kippur with a minyan.

"As soon as my mission was over, I returned here to my resting place. Go back to your friends and tell them not to worry. No harm has befallen me. I am at peace. Peace be with you."

As soon as the words were spoken, the vision disappeared and the shamash awoke. He could hardly get to shul fast enough to inform his fellow-Jews of the wonderful dream he had just had. At first they could hardly believe him, but they knew him to be a pious man so they could have no doubt that it was indeed the Patriarch Abraham who had come to be the tenth man to their minyan. Their hearts were filled with a great and abounding joy. Humbly they gave thanks to the Almighty--the G‑d of their father Abraham.

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Carol Norman, Oklahoma October 5, 2011

Wow, that's so powerful. G-d can do anything for those that earnestly seek Him in prayer and petition. I love how G-d heard them and answered them even when they were just 9. Reply

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