Tora Thoughts: Parashat Emor 5778
Rabbi Rami Pavolotzky
Nine plus One is Much More than Ten
At the end of Leviticus chapter 22, after a long list of ritual laws, the Torah concludes with three beautiful verses (31-33):
You shall keep My commandments and perform them. I am the Lord. You shall not desecrate My Holy Name. I shall be sanctified amidst the children of Israel. I am the Lord Who sanctifies you. Who took you out of the land of Egypt, to be a God to you. I am the Lord.
Specifically from the phrase “I shall be sanctified amidst the children of Israel,” the sages of the Talmud learn the obligation of having a Minyan in order to perform certain parts of the service (Brachot 20b). Prayers that are considered related to holiness or sanctity (for example Barchu, Kaddish or the Kedusha), need to be said with a minimum of ten Jewish adults present.
The verse says that God will be sanctified amidst the children of Israel. Therefore, an individual person is not enough in order to sanctify God; there is a need for having the “children of Israel.” However, what is the minimum number of people necessary to be able to sanctify God? This number is learned from the story of the spies in the Book of Numbers (chapters 13-14). In that story, ten spies declare that the people will not be able to conquer the Land of Israel, which triggers an enormous crisis among the people. Amid the anger, God says, “Dissociate yourselves from this congregation, and I will consume them in an instant” (Numbers 16:21). In Hebrew, the word for “from this” are betoch, which could be translated also as “within.” It is the same word that was used in our very first quote, “I shall be sanctified amidst the children of Israel,” here translated as “amidst.” Therefore, the two stories are textually related one to the other. Furthermore, in the verse from the story of the spies quoted above, the group of the ten spies is called an eda, a “congregation.” Therefore, the sages of the Talmud learn that a group of ten people is considered a congregation, and only with ten people present can God be sanctified.
Many things can be said about the Minyan, the religious quorum, which is a unique Jewish institution. I want to bring in here a nice saying from Rabbi Moshe Leib of Sassov (1745–1807, Eastern Galicia, now in Ukraine, founder of the Sassov Hasidic dynasty):
See how important the value of everyone in the Jewish people is. Nine wise and just persons, well learned in Torah and fearful of God, cannot form a Minyan. However, ten simple persons, humble workers who are not learned in Torah, when they are together they are able to form a Minyan and say any prayer and sanctify God.
This is a very important lesson that I always remember when we are praying at the synagogue and only have exactly ten people present! When we are ten, we should realize how important is each one of the persons present. If only one leaves, then the nine who stay cannot say the most sacred prayers anymore—even if those nine are big rabbis or sages! We need everyone.
I believe this is an important lesson about Judaism in general. On the one hand, we are not only individuals. We need to form a group, we need to come together to be able to pray the whole service. On the other hand, we need to worry about everyone, every individual counts as one, regardless of that person’s social status.
We are one, but we are ten. We are individuals who belong to a group, to a people.