Every generation has a Choni whom God will not turn down, but we don’t always know who that person is. Rav, the great amorah, visited a community that was afflicted with drought. He declared a fast and prayed for rain, but none came. Then an old Jew stood up, approached the prayer stand and prayed for rain. Rain came in an instant. “What do you do that your prayers are answered so quickly?” asked Rav. “I am a teacher of small children and I teach the children of the poor as well as the rich. I take nothing from those who cannot afford to pay me” replied the old man.
Rabbi Beroka once met Elijah the prophet in the market place of Bei Lefet. “Is there any one here who has a place in the world to come?” Rabbi Beroka asked Elijah. “Yes,” said Elijah, “that man going by wearing black shoes and no tzitzit.” Rabbi Beroka ran after the man.
“What do you do?” he asked.
“I am a jail guard,” replied the man. “I make sure that no harm befalls the young girls who are incarcerated.”
“Why do you not wear tzizit?” asked Rabbi Beroka.
“Because I move incognito among gentiles and whenever I overhear a decree that is bad for the Jews, I report back to the rabbis.”
According to the halacha, an individual may not pray for rain on Shemini Atzeret. One must wait for the shaliach tzibbur to engage the entire community in the prayer for rain. Perhaps the reason for this is because nobody knows who the Choni among us is. So we all pray together in the hope that somebody so close to God that He cannot refuse him will save us all. Such people may go unrecognized, but they seem to emerge from the ranks of those who have compassion and are God’s partners in sharing limited resources with others.