Friday Night's Sermon: Praying Together

Someone who was Christian, Catholic actually, was expressing frustration at a concept he was told by a priest. In the gospel, Jesus is quoted as saying that when two people are together is when he comes to them. He wanted to know why it takes two, or more, and why wouldn’t he get the same consideration if praying by himself?

In Judaism we have a similar concept. There are certain prayers, sanctifications, which require a minyan in order to be said during services. Additionally, there is no repetition of the silent standing prayer (“Amidah”, “Tefillah”) unless there is that quorum of 10. Also, without the mandatory and minimum ten, we can’t even take out the Torah!

He was dismayed at the thought that unless there are multiple participants in prayer, the prayers are not effective, or just plain don’t count. This isn’t such a foregone conclusion. Considering the context and framing of that type of requirement, who wouldn’t be dismayed that G-d only hears a crowd, not an individual?

The reality, however, is different than the assumption. It is true that these sanctification prayers are supposed to be done only with a minyan. The sanctification prayers are the Kaddishes, which includes the Mourner’s Kaddish, and the Kedushah that is said during the reader’s repetition of the Amidah which incorporates the third prayer of HaShem’s name.

One may think that without the quorum, our prayers are either not effective or outright useless. Remember, first of all, that most of our prayer service was developed after the destruction of the second Temple. The idea that these specific prayers can only be said with a minyan is from the Torah that states, “the people of Israel will sanctify the Lord”. Since “people” is plural, rather than just two or even three as in the case of the Birchat Hamazon, they derived the idea that it requires a minyan of ten. Consider also that the concept of having prayers that can only be said with a minyan may be a motivation to get a lot of people to pray together and thus keep the community together and focused on practicing Judaism.

Of course, the idea that an individual by him or herself cannot pray alone would certainly contradict our Torah. After all, each of our patriarchs is credited with initiating each of the three daily prayer services (Morning-Afternoon-Evening) and each of them was alone when they first prayed to HaShem. Certainly, there wasn’t enough Jews in the world, let alone locally, to even consider a minyan.

There are those of us who do pray three times daily and especially out here, the chances of getting a minyan for any one of those services is remote. Yet there is still a prayer service. The actual kiddushim that require a minyan are a very small percentage of the service, maybe five per cent. So we can still certainly pray on our own and hit almost all of the prayers, thus saying what we would want to say to G-d, expressing our innermost desires, supplications, thanks and acknowledgments. Even without a minyan, our praying is effective.

In fact, that doesn’t mean we can’t study Torah. There is no preclusion for reading and studying Torah at any time, let alone during a morning service. What this does mean is that without the minyan we can’t do a specific Torah service in which we take out the Torah from the Ark, parade it around and then read directly from it. But as many people know, we have still done a D’var Torah on a Saturday morning even without the required ten.

Now we have another concept. If we don’t ultimately need a minyan to pray so much of the service, why even bother? Why hold formal services at all? Why not pray at home and save gas and the bother of dressing up and wasting money on gas, or time to walk to shul?

So that we can come together as a community and support each other. United we stand, divided we fall. Our sense of community has helped us survive for the last 2000 years in exile. When we come together to pray and see our brothers and sisters next to us reciting the same prayers with the same “cavod”/dedication, we feel part of something great. And that feeling of togetherness is not just about praying; it’s about supporting each other socially and financially.

That’s a main concept in praying: coming together. When it is Saturday morning and we are spending time studying Torah, we are sharing ideas. When we share ideas, we feel as part of a community. And that’s what it’s about.


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