Frank is a devout member of the synagogue. He keeps Shabbos and kosher and comes to shul every week. I asked him once why he doesn’t come to services during the week.
“Rabbi, I need to get to work. I’d have to be out of there 7:30 at the latest. I’m worried that if there’s no minyan (quorum), I’d be stuck. You know I’d love to be there, Rabbi, but I can’t be in two places at once.”
“Frank, believe it or not,” I replied, “you actually can be in two places at once!”
The Mishnah tells of a number of mitzvos that may only be performed with a minyan – a quorum of ten – including communal prayer, the priestly blessing and reading the Torah or Haftorah.
Tosfos teaches: The Jerusalem Talmud explains that if they began with ten and some left, nonetheless they may complete the service. And concerning those who left, the prophet Isaiah states, “And those who leave G-d shall be finished.” Such is the law.
Isaiah is talking about the End Times. “And those who leave G-d shall be finished!” So I understand why people like Frank would be afraid to come to shul and leave early to go to work. They’re probably better off not coming at all than leaving early and ultimately facing G-d’s wrath at the End of Days!
Obviously, that’s not what the Jerusalem Talmud means. Trust me, with all the sinners who committed murder, idolatry and immorality, G-d will have His hands full. When he starts punishing the people who left minyan early, we’ll know He’s getting to the end!
The Talmud rather is using the word “finish” in terms of “complete.” For example, using the same word, we recite in the Kiddush on Friday night, “And the heavens and earth and all their hosts were completed.” In other words, the Talmud is giving us a novel interpretation of Isaiah’s words – “those who leave G-d” – those who leave the service – will still complete the minyan!
Frank, you might think that you’re just sitting at your desk in the office, but as far as G-d’s concerned, you’re also completing the minyan! So, yes, you can be in two places at once!
The same is true of other communal responsibilities that people avoid with the excuse that they can’t complete the task. I’ll ask people to join the Purim committee.
“Sorry, Rabbi, I’m leaving on vacation just before Purim.”
“Well that means that you can help out with design and set up!”
“What’s the point if I can’t be there to see the project through?”
The point is that if you are part of the initial quorum, G-d considers it as if you’ve completed the task. You may be on a cruise in the Caribbean, but as far as G-d is concerned, you’re at the Purim event!
Stop avoiding mitzvos you think you can’t complete. You can! Physically you might not be able to be there to the end, but G-d wants you to start the effort and He’ll magically transport you to see the project through to completion!