I started my day with the Tuesday Morning Minyan, and at sundown, I will join a shiva minyan at the home of a bereaved gentleman in our congregation. In the morning we had learning, and prayers, and then coffee with the guys (this week they were all guys, except me.) In the evening, we’ll have some quiet visiting, and prayers, and then some nosh and more quiet visiting.
“Minyan” literally means “a quorum for Jewish prayer, or 10,” but beneath the surface, it means so much more:
– a group that comes together daily or regularly to pray and share the connections of community
– a group that comes together to comfort the mourners among us
– a group that can represent Am Yisrael, the Jewish People, standing before God in prayer
– a group of Jewish adults: the magic about the age of 13 for bar mitzvah is that that’s the age at which one counts for the minyan
– a group of Jewish adults: when women began to “count for a minyan,” it was a major step forward for liberal Jewish women
– Ten: the minimum number to say certain important prayers, such as Kaddish and the Barechu blessings
– Ten: the number needed for certain important activities, like reading Torah.
Why ten? The traditional answer is that that is the number of the “spies” who persuaded the Israelites that the Land was too scary to enter in Numbers 13-14. God refers to them as eda’ah hara’ah hazot – “this bad congregation.” (Num. 14:27) Their number was sufficient to drown out the good report of Caleb and Joshua; ultimately their voices spoke for the whole people.
I like to think of it in a more positive way: ten is the number of toes on my feet. A person who loses a toe can still walk, but balance will be impaired and speed will be impaired. Even the little toe is critical for the complex architecture of our feet. In the same way, each member is critical to the functioning of the minyan, from the 13 year old awash in hormones to the 93 year old who cannot see the prayer book anymore. Each has a part to play, even though it may be mysterious to us.
I knew everyone at the minyan this morning; odds are, I won’t know many people at the minyan tonight. It doesn’t really matter. What matters is the presence of every person in the room. What matters, for the Jewish people, is that we show up.