Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Holiness in the Midst of the Community

Adapted from Ein Ayoh, vol 1, p 104

The Need for a Minyan

Judaism has an interesting concept called a minyan, a prayer quorum, special prayers sanctifying Hashem's name, such as the Kedusha (sanctification prayer) and Kaddish prayers, may only be said when ten men are present.  An individual may pray in solitude, but without a minyan, certain parts of the liturgy must be omitted.

The Talmud derives the requirement for a prayer quorum from Hashem's declaration. "I will be sanctified in the midst of the Israelites" (Vayikra 22:32).  What exactly does the word "midst" mean?

We Find the word "midst" used again when Hashem warned the people living nearby the dissenters in Korach's rebellion: "Separate yourselves from the midst of this eida [community]" (Bamidbar 16:20).  From here, the Sages learned that Hashem is sanctified within an eida.

And what is the definition of eida?  The Torah refers to the ten spies who brought a negative report of the Land of Israel as an eida ra'ah, an evil community (14:26).  So we see that Hashem is sanctified in a community of at least ten members.

The requirement for a prayer quorum, and the way it is derived, raises two issues that need to be addressed:

Prayer appears to be a private matter between the soul and its Maker.  Why should we need a minyan of ten participants in order to pray the complete service?

Why is the requirement for a minyan derived precisely from two classic examples of rebellion and infamy - the spies and Korach?

Perfecting the Community Holiness is based on our natural aspirations for spiritual growth and perfection.  However, the desire to perfect ourselves - even spiritually - is not true holiness.  Our goal should not be the fulfilment of our own personal needs, but rather to honor and sanctify our Maker.  Genuine holiness is an altruistic striving for good -- for its own sake, not out of self-interest.

The core of an elevated service of Hashem is when we fulfil His will by helping and uplifting society.  Therefore, the Kedusha may not be said in private.  Without a community to benefit and elevate, the individual cannot truly attain higher levels of holiness.

This special connection between the individual and society is signified by the number ten.  Ten is the first number that is also a group, a collection of units forming a new unit.  Therefore, the minimum number of members for a quorum is ten.

Learning from Villains

Why do we learn this lesson from the wicked?  It is precisely the punishment of the wicked that sheds light on the reward of the righteous.  If the only result of evil was that the wicked corrupt themselves, it would be unnecessary for the law to be so severe with one who is only hurting himself.  However, it is part of human nature that we influence others and are influenced by our surroundings.  Unfortunately, evil people have a negative influence on the entire community; and, it is for this reason that they are punished so severely.  Understanding why the wicked are punished clarifies why the righteous are rewarded.  Just as the former are punished principally due to their negative influence on the community, so too, the reward of the righteous is due primarily to their positive influence.  Now it becomes clear that true holiness is in the context of the organic whole.  And the Kedusha prayer sanctifying Hashem's Name may only be recited in a minyan, with a representative community of ten members.

I have mentioned it before but let me reiterate.  The higher spiritual level of the woman and the fact that they were not guilty of the crime of the spies is what releases the woman from the obligation of ten when praying.  Like Tefillin and Tallit, women are above these requirements and are not obligated.  When a woman wants to wear these items or insists upon being counted in the minyan, she has lowered herself to the spiritual level of a man which, in the eyes of Hashem, is a sin.  Hashem made men and women the way he wanted them --    to accomplish their individual missions and purposes within His creation.  Changing the pattern out of ignorance is very counter-productive and benefits nobody.  To state that man made up these rules is admitting to the ignorance since no man wants to lower his spiritual level but would prefer to be at the level of women (include me in that group).  Hashem knows what He is doing.  We need to understand His ways and use them to our advantage.  He loves us and did this all for us.


  1. Thank you for your postings. Never want to do more than what is allowed or required for a woman to do... but do these things apply to the Jewish woman only, or to a goy woman also? Very scary thinking i would do something more than allowed by HaShem or required by Him...

    1. I don't profess to be an expert on the requirements for non-Jews; but, to my knowledge there are no other requirements for men or women than the 7 Commandments of Noah. The difficult part of the answer I just gave you is that the 7 Commandments are general categories that spawn many requirements. How they break down and what it means to you as an individual, I have little expertise. You certainly have sources on the web and Noachide organizations to investigate specifics. Your effort alone is appreciated by Hashem. He likes to see everyone wanting to serve Him properly and putting in the effort to do so.

    2. Genesis 19:32 Then he said, “May the Lord not be angry, but let me speak just once more. What if only ten can be found there?”

      He answered, “For the sake of ten, I will not destroy it.”

      10 righteous souls. Souls.

  2. Thank you very much for your response... moving forward!!!!

  3. You don't pray shelo asani isha? What about shelo asani goy?

    1. Of course, I say both bruchas every day; but, you need to know what the purpose is of each. Shelo asani isha is only thanking Hashem that I don't have to experience labor since no man on earth could probably bear the pain anyway (men and women have very different pain threshold levels). In the same way I may emulate the level of Torah scholarship of a great Rabbi, doesn't mean that I would want to be that person. I thank Hashem that He made me whom I am. I like me and wouldn't want to be anyone else even if others had midos that I wish I had. My job is to work towards a level of kedusha not to be jealous of someone who has a higher level, such as a woman. I also feel very privileged to be a Jew. I may emulate certain traits of goyim that I know but would not want to be them. Many bruchas have a deeper meaning than the English translation would lead you to believe. Whatever comes from Hashem is for our good even if we don't have the insight to its deepest meaning.

  4. Women and men have very different pain threshold indeed, but the imbalance is not in the direction you suggest. Countless males (and very few females) have kept silent while experiencing torture, which as I am sure you agree, does not even compare to labor and childbirth, given that no one in their right mind would prefer torture to childbirth, assuming they're female and given the option. However, you are focusing on a negative element. What about studying Torah? You would rather that, like a female (or a goy) you had not been commanded to?

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    2. Nothing that I said was my opinion, but was told to me by medical professionals. If they were wrong, I humbly apologize. Whether men could take torture better than or as well as women I have no factual basis for argument. Childbirth is probably very much up there with torture on the pain scale but no where near the psychological factor of the unknown. Having a baby is a happy occasion. Torture is one of the most stressful unknowns in the world. Whether men can take trauma better than women I have no idea. Do you have studies on the matter or was that your personal opinion? I know personally that my wife is a much stronger person than I when it comes to pain or trauma and I am a macho retired US Army Officer (don't tell anyone). I faint if I see blood and so does my son. My daughter, on the other hand, is a phlebotomist who takes blood. I guess you can't go by my family.
      What negative element are you referring to? I don't study Torah because I was commanded, I study Torah because it gives me great pleasure. I am very curious about Hashem's creation and can't get enough discovery, fast enough. It is the most pleasurable craving one can have. I also am a very successful individual in everything that I have done in life and I attribute that to Hashem's help and the information He has given me to make me successful. I was never one to argue with success. Whatever a woman or a non-Jew needs to be successful and happy in life -- he or she should not hold back. Not because they are commanded or not commanded but because the way to be happy in this world is available to everyone -- all they need do is take advantage of it. I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that following the ways of Hashem is the greatest path to success and happiness in this world and for eternity. I wish you and everyone else in the world total fulfillment in whatever you do. What a wonderful world that would make!!!!