[This week's Haveil Havalim is here!]
[Make sure to read this article to the end – a Forward shout-out for our shul’s annual chulent contest! ]
This hasn't happened to me in a while, but when it does, it's a problem:
The time for minchah arrives, and we have 9 men. (Yes, we only count men for the minyan. No, that's not the topic of this post.) So I pull out my cell phone and start calling people, and soon enough we have a pledge from the tenth to be there as soon as he can.
Then, before the promised tenth can arrive, someone else walks in the door. Now what?
Do I call our promised tenth and let him know he isn't needed? That would be a way to protect myself from being accused of crying Wolf... but then he would miss minyan!
So should I let him rush to get dressed appropriately (also a topic for another post, but in this case I've already written it here, on shul dress codes and Dress-Up Judaism) and come to shul? But then he may resent it when he comes and the tenth is already there, and the next time I call him he'll write it off as the rabbi crying Wolf again!
From a purely halachic perspective, this is not really a question; the legal principle of ערבות (responsibility for others) does not extend this far. I should protect myself and my future prospects by letting him know that the tenth has arrived, and then the choice to stay home or come to shul is his own.
But from a philosophical perspective, what should I do?
To globalize the problem: Is an immediate mitzvah more important than many potential future mitzvot?
Of course, the problem really is not so neatly stated, because (1) I don't know that he will resent it, (2) I don't know that such resentment would lead him not to come to minyan, and (3) I don't know that we will need him for any future minyan. But I like that formulation, so let's go with it: One immediate mitzvah, or Many potential future mitzvot?
I suspect the answer is מצוה הבא לידך אל תחמיצנה, loosely translated as, "Don't pass up an opportunity for a mitzvah, when it comes to hand." Let him come to minyan today, even if that puts future attendance in jeopardy. But I'm not certain that applies here.
I leave it open-ended, for now.