Praying In Community

Why Do We Need Ten?

Jews are encouraged to pray in community, and some of the most important prayers, such as the Mourner’s Kaddish, can only be recited in a minyan (quorum) of ten Jews. Why is it so important to pray with nine other people? Isn’t prayer a time to commune privately with God rather than a time for socializing with others?

Rabbi Yissocher Frand explains the value of communal prayer with a parable. It’s the day of the final exam for a university class. The instructor tells the students that they have three hours to complete the exam, and they must submit their test on time or they will be disqualified. At the end of the three hours, all of the students hand in their papers – except for one student who takes an additional fifteen minutes. When this student tries to submit his exam, the professor refuses to take it. The student asks the teacher, “Do you know who I am??” The professor responds that he doesn’t know or care; the deadline for test submission applies to all students. The student asks again, “You really don’t know who I am?” The professor again replies that whoever the student is and no matter his connections, he still cannot submit his test late. In a flash, the student slips his test into the stack of exams on the professor’s desk. “Now you’ll have no idea which one is mine!” he says before rushing away.

Rabbi Frand likens this to our prayers. God knows who each one of us is, of course, but we’re not all at the same level of righteousness. By praying with at least nine other people, those of us who are at a lower level spiritually benefit by mixing in their prayers with those more deserving. Extending Rabbi Frand’s metaphor, the people we surround ourselves with define who we are, so it’s better to be with people who are exceptionally good, rather than people who make us look good!

Image: Evening minyan in Tel Aviv flea market

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