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Tuesday
Nov262013

TEN TO DISCOVER THE ONE

The institution of the Minyan is a crucial factor in facilitating our spiritual experience of prayer. When 10 Jews gather together, they generate a spiritual force that is infinitely more potent than the spiritual energies possessed and generated by each individual. 

A MINYAN

One of Judaism’s most celebrated institutions is the Minyan. It is the quorum of 10 adult Jewish men needed to say certain prayers; specifically, the prayers that involve the sanctification of G-d, such as the Kaddish, K’dusha and the repetition of the Amida. A Minyan is also necessary for the public reading of the Torah. 

Praying with a Minyan significantly enhances the spiritual power of each of its constituent member’s prayers. The Talmud also states that G-d does not despise the prayer of the many. According to the Talmud, one who prays with a quorum contributes to the Redemption of G-d and His children from exile. 

What is the source of the number 10 with respect to a Minyan? 

TWO SOURCES

There are actually two Biblical sources cited by the Jerusalem Talmud.

The first source, mentioned also in the Babylonian Talmud, is the spy narrative in Parshas Shlach. Ten of the 12 spies Moses sent to scout the Land of Canaan returned with a slanderous report about the Promised Land. These 10 spies are referred to in the Torah as an eida-congregation. Hence, we know that the minimum number of people needed to form a congregation is 10 adult men. 

The second source (cited only in the Jerusalem Talmud) derives the requirement of 10 for a Minyan from this week’s parsha. Ten of Jacob’s 12 sons entered Egypt to purchase food during the famine predicted by Joseph that had spread to the land of Canaan as well. Jacob’s 10 sons are referred to as the “children of Israel” in this verse. The same expression “Children of Israel” is employed with regard to the commandment to sanctify G-d: “I should be sanctified among the Children of Israel…” This parallel usage of the term Children of Israel is intended to convey the message that a quorum of 10 men is necessary to engage in activities during which G-d’s name is sanctified, such as prayer. 

We have thus two sources for the Minyan imperative of 10 men: the evil congregation of 10 spies who rebelled against G-d and the Land of Israel, or the 10 sons of Jacob who sold Joseph into slavery.

Our task today is to understand the conceptual and didactic differences between these two sources, and why we must have them both. 

A MINYAN OF SINNERS?!

To answer these questions, another question must be answered: How could the Torah base the congregational requirement of 10 men to sanctify G-d’s name on the 10 spies who rebelled against G-d? 

The Rebbe (Likkutei Sichos volume 33) cites this anomaly as proof that the spies were motivated by spiritual considerations. They felt that the ideal spiritual state was to be found in the serene environment of the desert, where all their physical needs were met by G-d. These spies lived in a blissfully spiritual world and wanted nothing less than the continuation of this kind of life for all of Israel. They feared that entering the Land of Israel would force them to relinquish their souls’ spiritual quest.

Now, to be sure, their actions were inconsistent with G-d’s will, and for which transgression they were duly punished. Nevertheless, their revolt did not stem from the standard ego-driven form of rebelliousness that characterizes other rebels discussed in the Torah. Their disobedience was rooted in a positive, albeit misdirected, spiritual quest. Hence, the source of the law concerning the spiritual institution of the Minyan can justifiably be derived from the highly spiritually charged group of spies. 

Based on this analysis, the foregoing question as to why the Jerusalem Talmud was not content with that source alone and sought additional Biblical substantiation for the Minyan from the 10 sons of Jacob comes into sharper focus. 

ENTERING THE FOUR EXILES

The verse in this week’s parsha from which the requirement of 10 ten men to form a Minyan is derived reads as follows:

“So the children of Israel came to buy grain among the visitors, for the land of Canaan was in a state of famine.”

Commentators observe that the Hebrew word for “came” – [ha’]ba’im – is an acronym for the four primary exiles of the Jewish nation: The letter beis stands for Bavel-the Babylonian exile; the aleph is the initial of Edom-the Roman exile; the Yud represents Yavan-the Greek exile, and the Mem corresponds to Madai-the Mede or Persian exile. 

In the light of this insight, the verse can be retranslated, allegorically, as:

“So the children of Israel came to buy grain in the midst of the four exiles, for the land of Canaan was in a state of famine.”

This reading suggests that the reason we left the Promised Land of Israel, originally known as Canaan, was to find nourishment in exile. 

SPIRITUAL NOURISHMENT IN EXILE

How can it be that we should seek our spiritual nourishment in exile? Isn’t exile, by definition, a state of alienation from G-d and His teachings? Isn’t exile the very antithesis of holiness and spiritual growth? Doesn’t exile foster desensitization and famine of the spirit? Yet doesn’t the verse imply that the 10 sons of Jacob looked for their spiritual fix in exile?

The answer lies in the word “toch-in the midst” which means that while on the surface there is nothing more reprehensible than exile, but when we dig deeper and excavate until we reach its inner core, there is a hidden energy that can only be accessed in exile, and, indeed, it is the very force that empowers us to thrive in exile and ultimately be liberated from it.

In other words, the way we bring an end to the undesirable external aspects of exile is to search for and discover its hidden inner essence.

In the At Bash code (where the first letter of the alphabet—the aleph—is exchanged for the last letter—the tav; the second letter—the beis for the second last—the shin etc.), the word toch-midst is transformed into the word aleph, which alludes to the Master of the world. The inner essence of exile, hidden in code, is the aleph.  

When we mine the inner force of exile—the aleph—and reveal its spiritual truth, we release a mighty force of Redemption. 

In the words of the Rebbe: Exile-Gola and Redemption-Geula share the same letters. The sole difference between them is the aleph that transforms Gola into Geula.

When we are able to reveal exile’s true inner vitality, we receive the spiritual nourishment we need, not only to survive but thrive within the exile – as did the Jews initially in Egypt – and also bring an end to its external, negative character and reveal the Geula. 

TWO FUNCTIONS OF THE MINYAN

We can now understand the difference between the two sources that show us the need for 10 men in a Minyan.

The source that derives it from the 10 spies focuses us on the quest for greater spirituality, which is a necessary ingredient in prayer. During prayer we have to escape and transcend the material world to such an extent that we must force ourselves to “return” below to engage and ultimately transform the world into a Land of Israel; a land that cultivates and engenders a desire to conform to G-d’s will. To accomplish that, we must have the inspiration of prayer where we rise above and are temporarily withdrawn from the physical world. 

The institution of the Minyan is a crucial factor in facilitating our spiritual experience of prayer. When 10 Jews gather together, they generate a spiritual force that is infinitely more potent than the spiritual energies possessed and generated by each individual. 

IT TAKES A COMMUNITY

However, the second source, that which derives the requirement of 10 men from the 10 sons of Jacob who entered Egypt, highlights a completely different function of the Minyan. 

When a Jew is a prisoner of exile and tries to discover its inner dynamic only to be blocked from penetrating the thick cover, the way to accomplish that feat is to join forces with nine other Jews; one needs the assistance of the Minyan. 

This concept was alluded to in an earlier section of the Torah. When Jacob came to the well near Lavan’s home and saw the shepherds sitting idle, he asked why they were not off feeding and herding their sheep. They responded that they could not remove the heavy stone which covered the well on their own so they were waiting for all the other shepherds to assist them in that task. Only Jacob was able to do move the boulder singlehandedly.

This incident can be understood metaphorically. We, as individuals, cannot remove the stones or impediments blocking the wells of our souls. To gain access to those refreshing spiritual waters, we need the assistance of the community. The Minyan is a micro version of the entire Jewish community, with whose help we can remove any obstacle. It is only when we view ourselves strictly as individuals that we find our paths blocked with insurmountable barriers. 

Jacob, and Jacob-like individuals such as the Rebbe, can move the rock singlehandedly because their souls are comprised of the souls of all the members of the community. They are not merely individuals; they personify the community, to which they selflessly devote their lives. Everyone else needs the power of the Minyan to reveal the aleph, embedded within exile, which empowers us to achieve Geula. 

LEARNING WITH A MINYAN

In addition to praying with a Minyan, the Rebbe emphasized that we must also learn Torah—particularly, the parts of Torah that deal with Redemption and Moshiach—with a quorum of 10. The combined strength of the Minyan enhances the learning experience and helps us remove the stone blocking the emergence of the aleph, which we will use to transform Gola into Geula. 

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