“How long shall I bear with this evil congregation, that keep murmuring against Me? I have heard the murmurings of the children of Israel, which they keep murmuring against Me.” (Bamidbar 14:27)


Verse 16:21 reads: 


“’Separate yourselves from among this congregation, that I may consume them in a moment’” 


Another verse (Vayikra 22:32) reads: 


“I will be hallowed among the children of Israel”


The Gemara in Megillah 23a uses these verses together as proof that a minyan is made of ten. There were ten spies who came back with a bad report. The word “congregation,” in Hebrew “edah,” is used in  first two instances mentioned above. The Gemara says that we know that this refers to a minyan for public prayer and public Torah reading because of the verse “I will be hallowed among the children of Israel”. The word “among (Hebrew: toch)” appears both here and in Bamidbar 16:21, quoted above. God is hallowed “among” the “congregation” of Israel when they number ten or more.


It is far easier for an individual to change, grow, and reflect upon what is right and what is wrong than for a group. The story of the spies illustrates this beautifully. The majority of the spies, the ten upon whom we model our minyanim today, reacted with fear and despair when they saw the inhabitants of their prospective homeland. Their feelings were contagious. They sparked a massive loss of faith among their people that resulted in their people being slaughtered in a war that they were told not to engage in, and their entire generation not seeing their way from slavery in Egypt to nationhood at home. 


Fear and panic are easily accessed emotional responses. They do not involve higher thinking or reflection. Perhaps because they are so simple, so basic, they are most easily transmitted to others. Higher reasoning, patience, prioritizing of values and goals, however, are more complex functions of the human mind. Fear is instinctual. Emunah, or faith, is arrived at through deep reflection upon one’s situation and one’s own internal processes. Emunah is cultivated through conscious risk-taking, through meditation, through concentrated prayer, and through empathic conversation with others.  Fear is easy to transmit. Faith is not. 


It is easy to understand, then, why only two of the spies, Yehoshua and Calev, were able to evaluate the land that they were touring, and return with a positive assessment of the people’s ability to conquer it. They observed, they reflected, and they trusted. The other ten reacted in fear, disrupting their own abilities to respond reasonably to what they saw, and their abilities to trust God to help them. 


This is why, as a remedy, our minyanim today must be based on the ten spies who had no faith. We read the Torah and pray in a group so as to harness that same force of group psychology that can so easily be a breeding ground for knee-jerk thinking and fear-mongering, and use it instead to transmit spirituality and to inspire collective thinking around the Torah.


We need to respect the power of collective thinking. We must recognize that group-think is not conducive to our higher cognition and our ability to achieve emunah. When a group is mobilized toward some positive goal, however, it truly gathers momentum. Collective prayer, when it is concentrated and sincere, can be contagious. But now, while we patiently continue to live our lives with social distancing, mainly communicating with people remotely from our homes, we have an opportunity to meet the pressures of the world like Yehoshua and Calev, with faith, with reason, with patience, and with compassion. 


Shabbat Shalom!

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