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Counting to Ten

06/24/2019 04:26:04 PM


The idea of minyan, of requiring a quorum to constitute a community for prayer, is one of the most basic ones in our Jewish tradition. Why are ten Jews required for this purpose? Our tradition presents several explanations, but the Talmud’s classic answer (Megillah 23b) weaves together three disparate sections of the Torah including with a passage from this week’s parashah. Moses sends twelve spies to investigate the land of Israel. Two of the spies, Joshua and Caleb, come back with a positive report, and ten come back with a negative report. The ten negative spies lack self-confidence and thwart God’s plan declaring that the land is a terrible place, and that we will not be able to overcome the obstacles to conquering it and living in it.

God says of the spies “how long shall I tolerate this evil assembly (edah)?” Since ten of the spies were evil, ten are enough to constitute an assembly - a group influential enough to turn the whole congregation away from God. The rabbis hopscotch through the Bible to next week’s parashah and to Leviticus 22 to conclude that the size of an assembly sufficient to affect the community for the worse is also the size which is needed to create an influence for the better. Therefore, ten Jews are also required to sanctify God’s name by reciting prayers like kaddish and kedushah. How amazing, though, that the source cited by the Talmud for constituting a minyan refers specifically not to ten who are known for their faith, but rather to those who have challenged God and are doomed to destruction.

Just imagine how much easier things would be if fewer of the spies had come back with a negative report. We might get away with a minyan of 9, 8 or 7. If that were the case, we could face less anxiety as we wait for the tenth to show up at 6:15 on Sunday afternoons. People come to our weekday services for many reasons. Some come for a dose of daily prayer that builds their spirituality. Others come to say kaddish, to seek consolation for a loss, and to honor the memory of loved ones. In all cases, we want to fulfill the promise we have made to be a “full service” congregation that is there for our members and the larger community each day.

Even though many have heard the call and helped, there are still days when our weekday minyan does not reach the required quorum, particularly now that we are in the midst of summer vacation. Our Torah portion reminds us that the actions of an edah, of just ten, can change the face and fate of an entire community. Though few us are able to commit to coming every single day, we can each be a part of the right kind of edah every now and then. We can each be one of the ten who ensure that our congregation displays the welcoming and spirituality that draws so many to our doors.

Our ritual committee is spearheading an effort to make it easier to for each of us make a difference. Each of the 800 families in our congregation will be invited to support our daily minyans during one specific week out of each year. If each of us came just a couple times in our assigned week, it would be more than enough to ensure the continued success of our daily minyan - to ensure that those who need to say kaddish can do so, and that we never need to anticipate a disappointing report from those seeking a haven in our spiritual home.

Tue, December 5 2023 22 Kislev 5784