A Minyan of Two, by Larry Lefkowitz
Lord of mercy, guide your servant according to your will, intoned Rivlin. The first sun of the double star had almost set. Sabbath had come. Rivlin had set his calendar to the nearer of the two stars, according to the rabbis’ ruling in such cases. And what did the rabbis suggest if you were not only the only Jew on a planet, but also the only person? For a short time, admittedly; his partner was due back soon after a minor operation on the nearest medical planet. This was a violation of the galaxy regulation prohibiting an individual serving alone on a planet, but budgetary limitations had ruled out a strict compliance since his partner was scheduled to return in a few days.
Spread above me your tent of peace. After he had finished the opening prayer, Rivlin paused to look at his two dwindling shadows, made by the first barely visible star, before singing: Go, my beloved toward the queen, the face of Sabbath we will receive. He stopped. The line was correct, right? Only he hadn’t sung it. Or had he? Had the mind-losing process begun? It was the very thing that the regulation had meant to avoid.
The planet was devoid of vegetation; its sole justification for their dual–now single – presence was the magnetic mining potential a man-less probe had detected. A team would arrive soon to prepare mining operations. He and his partner were there to prepare for their arrival.
Rivlin poked at the sandy surface with his boot. A small whirlwind rose and then collapsed. He thought of the prophet Ezekiel. He felt an overwhelming need to continue with the Sabbath service. And a city will be built, he sang, but the prayer had not helped. How could it? It had not come from him. It seemed to come from somewhere outside of him, from somewhere to his left. From behind a small hill. Despite his fear, Rivlin began to run in its direction. The song increased in intensity. Rivlin rounded the hill as the last line was sung: We will receive.
A small creature, approximately a meter in height, stood facing in the direction – of Earth! The creature gave a slight bow. Rivlin stood aghast. He recited the blessing upon seeing an unusual person. He had the uncanny feeling that the creature was reciting the same blessing about him.
“What are you?” Rivlin wanted to shout. “Who are you?” he heard himself ask in a quieter voice. He noticed that the creature wore a skullcap.
“Chaim,” the creature said in a friendly voice.
Rivlin stood mute. Dumbfounded.
“What did you expect, the Golem of Prague?” the creature asked.
Rivlin felt like weeping. And escaping. The creature seemed to anticipate him. “It’s forbidden to go outside the measured area allowed for the Sabbath,” it said. “You didn’t take this into consideration. It was understandable considering the circumstances. But now that the matter is cleared up for you . . .”
Rivlin didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. “Are you Jewish?”
“Nu, what else? You heard me praying. A shayner yid,” it said.
Rivlin would have held on to a tree if the planet had trees. Unfortunately, nothing vertical existed on it, except hills, and a hill couldn’t be grasped by a man – even one who had gone over the edge. Here on a minor uninhabited planet six hundred and twelve light years from where Moses had seen a burning bush, there were no bushes. And yet there was Chaim.
“You don’t look Jewish,” Rivlin couldn’t stop himself from saying. And why stop himself – the creature could apparently read his thoughts.
A high-pitched chuckle rippled out from the throat of the creature. It shook its head. “I suppose not, from your viewpoint. Let me assure you that I am very Jewish. Where I come from, I’m one of the first for a minyan. Besides, I have a Jewish mother.”
“But what are you doing here?” Rivlin asked, looking around involuntarily at the sand increasingly darkening as the second sun sunk below the horizon.
The creature winked or seemed to. The construction of its three eyes made it difficult to be sure. They had shut and opened together in about twice the time that an earth human’s eyes would have required to carry out the same operation. “Shabbos was coming. A Jew shouldn’t pray alone. I would have liked to bring eight others to form a minyan, but they only sent me . . .,” the creature’s short stubby appendages fluttered in explanation. “Budgetary constraints,” he added.
“You were sent?!”
“The rabbinate. They know you are Orthodox. They also know I am Orthodox. Incidentally, our planet is Orthodox – except for a smaller Conservative congregation, and an even smaller Reform. My planet is the closest planet that has a substantial Jewish population. The rabbinate didn’t want you to be alone on the Sabbath.”
Rivlin wanted to embrace Chaim.
Chaim sensed it. “Feel free,” he said.
“What?” Rivlin reddened. “Just a thought, “he mumbled.
“You Earth residents are less emotional compared to us. Even the Jewish ones.”
But not Rivlin at that moment, who was deeply moved because they had sent him someone for the Sabbath.
“How can I thank you,” he said.
“No need,” Chaim replied. “Absolutely no need.” To cover his own emotions, Chaim began to recite the evening prayer, and when he reached and arranges the stars in the heavens, Rivlin joined him. The only sound heard on the planet, it reached to its every corner. And beyond.