A gentle breeze tousled Sasha’s hair as he walked briskly in the direction of his office. The quality of his suit gave Sasha a degree of confidence. The valise of diamonds in his hand gave him even more.
“Ah tzenter! Ah tzenter!” Sasha turned to see the head of a middle aged man, protruding from a doorway. The man turned to Sasha “Please, I need to say kaddish for a yahrtzeit. Come join our minyan.”
Sasha glanced at his watch. A small delay wouldn’t set him back too much. If the man only needed “a tzenter” – a tenth man – for the minyan, that meant that davening would start as soon as Sasha joined. He obligingly followed the man through the doorway of the shul, and went to join the minyan.
Minyan? There were all of three people in the room! “You said you needed a tzenter!” Sasha confronted the man who had brought him in. “I thought I was coming to complete the minyan!”
“I’ll have a minyan very soon,” the man insisted. And, with that, he resumed his position at the door.
“Ah tzenter! Ah tzenter!”
Sasha looked impatiently at his watch. Another ten minutes had passed, and only two more men had joined them. Sasha looked cautiously in the direction of the doorway. The man seemed to be preoccupied with his search for the eighth tzenter. As Sasha attempted his getaway, he felt a hand applying firm pressure to his shoulder.
“Just where do you think you’re going!?” the man seethed. “I need you here for the minyan!”
“That’s very nice” Sasha retorted, “but you tricked me. You said that you needed a tzenter! When I walked in, I was the fifth person in the room! I can spare a few minutes from work to join a minyan, but I had no idea that I would have to wait this long. I have to get to work already!”
“I told you already!” the man insisted. “I have yahrtzeit today for my father! In a few minutes, we’ll have our ten men, and then we can daven.”
“But who knows how long it will take to get another three men!” Sasha replied. “I can’t afford to go to work so late!”
“Think about how you would feel if you were in my situation!” the man countered. “Wouldn’t you want other people to stay in shul so that you could say kaddish?!”
Sasha swallowed hard. He sighed. He had to admit that the man was right. Sasha went back into the shul, sat down in a chair, and resigned himself to the fact that work would just have to wait. Sasha took out a Tehillim and settled into his seat. The minutes ticked by. One man, then another, and finally the official tzenter, made their way into the shul. The man walked to the front of the room, opened his siddur, and began to daven with great feeling. Slowly, deliberately, he sang out the words with great passion, as Sasha’s hopes of making it to work in the near future dissolved into oblivion.
Finally, finally, shacharit ended. Sasha took his valise, and made his way toward the door. Once more, and much later than he intended, he headed in the direction of his office. He was about two blocks away when a friend of his ran in his direction.
“Stop!” the man called out urgently. “Sasha, don’t come any closer. The Bolsheviks took over the government. Since early this morning, they’ve been running through the business district, killing any Jews they can get their hands on!”
Sasha turned pale, as he ran in the opposite direction, as fast as his legs could carry him. When he was out of harm’s way, and his heartrate had returned to normal, he contemplated the morning’s events. And then it struck him. Sasha had thought that he had been doing someone else a favor by participating in the minyan. In fact, that act had saved Sasha’s life!
Did the man do anything wrong by asking Sasha to be a “tzenter” (tenth man), despite the fact that there were less than nine men in the shul at the time?
Answer of Rabbi Avigdor Nebenzahl, shlita:
Because the term “tzenter” is often used to ask people to join a minyan, regardless of whether or not the person joining is, in fact, the tenth, it is understood that the word “tzenter” is not intended to be taken literally. In a sense, every minyan is comprised of ten “tzenters.”
In our story, even if the man had lied outright, and said that there were nine other people waiting to form a minyan, the man would not be deserving of punishment. This is because his actions ultimately saved Sasha’s life see Or hachaim beraishit, (50;20).