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19 Iyar 5763 - May 21, 2003 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Opinion & Comment
The Power of the Public -- Tefillah Betzibbur

by R' Yerachmiel Kram

"And five of you will chase a hundred, and a hundred of you will chase ten thousand" (Vayikra 27:8)

By Joining Tefillah Betzibbur, a Person is Included With the Public Performing a Mitzva

Upon the Torah's promise that when the Jewish people will be doing Hashem's wishes, five of them will be able to rout a hundred of their enemy and one hundred of them will be able to rout ten thousand, Rashi quotes Chazal: "And is this a correct calculation? Shouldn't it have said that one hundred would be able to chase two thousand? But [this comes to teach us that] there is no comparison between a few who keep the Torah and many who keep the Torah."

The power of Jewry over their enemies is not of a fixed ratio. When five Jews gather for the purpose of doing a mitzva, their aggregate power is one to twenty, whereas when one hundred join together for a mitzva, their combined clout is one to a hundred.

In other words, the number of people in the second example is twenty times greater, while their striking power is one hundred times greater. This proves that their increase serves to compound their power, each member respectively by five hundred percent.

But are we not speaking about the same Reuven and the identical Shimon? Nevertheless, when they are part of a group numbering one hundred people, the respective power of each and every single member is that much the greater than when they were part of a group numbering only five.

The Chofetz Chaim zt'l quotes this Midrash when he exhorts us to make sure we daven betzibbur. He seeks to prove that aside from the greater reward inherent in praying with a congregation, the participant gains other advantages. After he quotes the wording of Shlomo Hamelech, who says, "For if you seek it like silver, and look for it like a treasure -- then you will understand what is fear of Hashem," (Mishlei 2:4), he urges one to go to pray in a beis knesses for the very simple advantage therein. "With financial matters it is known," he writes, "that if a business opportunity comes a person's way whereby he can earn five gold coins, and another deal arises where he can earn double and triple, he would surely opt for the deal that offers the greater profit."

From here we must conclude that a person should relate to mitzvos as to a profitable opportunity, like in business. And since there is no comparison between few who do a mitzva and many who do it, the simple calculation shows us how worthwhile and advantageous is praying in public with the community.

The Chofetz Chaim enumerates several mitzvos that a person can accrue in the process of one tefillas shacharis: 1) The positive Torah commandment of putting on tefillin, 2) The positive commandment of reciting the Shema, 3) The positive commandment of remembering the exodus from Egypt.

"And so, when he comes to the beis midrash to pray with the community, and performs all of these mitzvos, each of them is elevated in holiness to a great degree, which cannot be when he prays alone" (Shemiras Haloshon, Conclusion).

The Very Act of Prayer With the Public is Considered Like a Mitzva Performed by the Public

Even by tefillas mincha, where one does not put on tefillin, read the Shema or mention the exodus, there is still a great advantage of praying with the congregation, for the very act of praying, aside from its aspect of requests, is a mitzva, be it from the Torah or from our Sages. Its unique power is different when it is done amidst a group of many than when it is performed individually. This is what Rabbenu Hamabit writes in his work, Beis Elokim, (Shaar Hatefillah, chap. 11).

The Mabit adds that even in material things, the power a person wields as part of a group is greater than when he operates alone. "And if this is so, then how much more so with G-dly things, where the mitzva itself is elevated to a far greater degree when several people unite to participate, than when each one does so separately and individually."

And just as prayer is more powerful when recited with a minyan of ten, by the same token, prayer recited with one hundred or two hundred is all the greater:

"And also with the prayer of the many, which incorporates holiness, there appears to be a greater advantage where one hundred men gather in one place than with ten gathering in one place, for each one of the hundred is part of the advantage of the conglomerate hundred which join his prayer, whereas one of ten who prays is only joining the combined prayer of ten. And even though there is no difference between, `Eleven and eleven myriad,' that is with regard to the minimum requirement of a minyan. Still in all, the very prayer of a greater body of people is certainly of greater sacred value, since, `In the greater multitude lies the glory of the King'" (Beis Elokim, ibid.).

The Power of the Public Rounds Out the Kavonoh and the Devotion Required in Tefillah

The fact of being one of many who are together performing a mitzva through praying in a minyan is only one advantage, a side benefit of the many advantages of praying with a congregation. But the very act of praying with a quorum is regarded as something very sublime and exalted in and of itself. This is altogether aside from the actual mitzva of prayer; it is the mitzva of praying within the framework of a community joined in performing this commandment.

The Rambam rules upon the obligation of praying betzibbur, in his work:

"Prayer by a public is always heard, even if that group includes sinners. Hashem does not despise the prayers of the community. Therefore, a person should unite himself with the community and not pray in solitude when he has the opportunity to pray betzibbur. One should always rise early and attend a beis knesses morning and evening, for his private prayer is only heard at all times in a beis knesses" (Rambam, Hilchos Tefillah, chap. 8:1).

The fact that Hashem does not reject the prayer of the klal is very significant for us, for when a person prays alone, Heaven is very exacting in gauging the measure of the kavonoh interjected into each and every single blessing and prayer.

"It is known," writes the Chofetz Chaim, "that in these times one is beset by worries and preoccupations, and it is hard to find a man saying even one prayer with the proper kavonoh without his toiling very hard to do so. And since everyone surely wants his prayers to be accepted in Heaven, he should seize this bit of advice, that is, to pray with the community, of which it is said, `He is A-mighty and shall not despise'" (Shemiras Haloshon).

R' Chaim of Volozhin also explains one's duty to pray betzibbur. He notes that since so many are incapable of concentrating their thoughts upon the meaning of the prayers, thus, they might be considered like a wicked man standing in prayer before his Creator. In such a manner does he explain the words of the tana, "Do not be a sinner in your own eyes," from Pirkei Ovos:

"He means to say that one should not pray in solitude, for if you pray alone, you just might be called a sinner, G-d forbid. For prayer by oneself must be with extreme concentration, with fear, devotion and sacrifice. If not, one's prayer is automatically rejected. Yet we do not find this in our times [that one is able to pray alone with full intent]. But regarding prayer with the public, even if one was unable to concentrate throughout the prayer, still his prayer is not despised, as is brought in the Zohar: `He heeds the prayer of the destitute (aror) and does not despise their prayer.' The meaning of this singular word, aror, designates something solitary, like `a solitary juniper tree in the desert.' He wishes to convey that the prayer of a single person is examined from all sides as it makes its way upwards through the different heavenly spheres to see if it is worthy of rising further or not. But `He does not despise their prayer' refers to prayer in public. For even if the prayer, on its own merits, is not worthy to rise, if it is said as part of the public, it will not be examined so meticulously along its ascent to Heaven and will not be despised or rejected" (Ruach Chaim on Pirkei Ovos, chap. 2:13).

From here we learn that the power of the public is capable of compensating and complementing the missing kavonoh of the individual prayer. HaRav Chaim Kanievsky brings this concept in his work Orchos Yosher, and adds that it is obvious that even as part of the congregation, an individual is not absolved of the obligation of having the proper kavonoh. Nevertheless, the gemora means to say that in the event that one prayed with the public and was unable to concentrate, his prayer is not rejected outright.

The Power of the Public Protects the Individual Who is Unworthy of Being Answered

When a person prays alone, he is inviting the possibility of his petition not being accepted, and not only because the content of his prayer may be lacking the proper deep kavonoh and concentration. An additional reason might also impede its acceptance. While he is praying, his very character is also being examined and he is answered in accordance with his moral status. He can overcome this hurdle, as well, however, by praying with the public:

"The prayer of an individual does not come before the Holy King save by an intensive power, for Hashem examines it and studies the various shortcomings and liabilities of the worshiper. The prayer of a community, however, ascends in its entirety before Hashem, Who does not examine [each person's] liabilities" (Zohar Bereishis 234).

From here we infer that the prayer of the public is especially advantageous to one whose merits are not sufficient to have his prayers accepted and answered, as well as for the one who is incapable of concentrating properly upon the prayers themselves whom we already mentioned.

This first reason is apparently the one that the Rambam relied on, "And even if there are sinners [in this congregation], Hashem does not despise the prayer of the many." The Rambam does not mention the situation of worshipers who did not concentrate upon the meaning of the prayers, but refers to sinners. And for such, they are given the special segulah-aid by praying with the public to propel their prayers.

This can be compared, lehavdil, to the cost of public transportation and private cab service. When a person travels by cab, as an individual, he is required to pay a large sum for the ride, for he is being served privately and individually. But when he travels on public transportation, which serves everyone on a general basis, then the bus operates for the benefit of the public at large so that the fare he pays is relatively low.

The kingdom of Heaven compares similarly to the kingdom of earth.

The Power of the Klal in the Falling of the Mon

The power of the community as a whole is so great that it can embrace its individuals, even if they are different and undeserving. In a talk he gave in Yeshivas Mir, HaRav Chaim Shmuelevitz zt'l pointed to a strange phenomenon that he discovered in the portion relating to the falling of the manna. Not every person in the nation was worthy of receiving this special bread, which is the fare of angels.

Dosson and Avirom, those wicked ones who purposely left over from their portion of mon, were not worthy of eating this celestial food, certainly not after they tampered with it in order to discredit Moshe Rabbenu. Nonetheless, they continued to be provided with it for they were eating out of a communal trough, so to speak. This sustenance was allocated on a mass basis, to the public at large which included tzaddik and rosho alike, so they were enabled to partake of it as well. On the other hand, Yehoshua bin Nun, who separated himself from the nation and erected his tent near Mt. Sinai in order to await the return of his master, needed special merit in order to receive his portion.

In a marvelous commentary, he explains what Chazal said on the verse, "The bread of heroes did the man eat," that this refers to Yehoshua, who was fed mon on a par equal to all the rest of the nation even when he was separated from them.

Surely this does not mean to say that he ate an amount equal to that of the rest of the nation! Rather, it comes to teach us the price Yehoshua had to pay for his daily bread, for the portion he received `special delivery' at the foot of Mt. Sinai.

So long as he was part of the general body of the nation and ate together with everyone from the collective bowl, Yehoshua did not require any special merit to receive his portion. But as soon as he separated himself from the klal and went his way, even though he only distanced himself a little way, he already needed individual merit which he, indeed, possessed. His merit was on par with that of the entire nation, and just as mon fell for the people in the merit of the nation as a whole, so did it fall for Yehoshua in his own great but individual merit (Sichos Mussar by R' Chaim Shmuelevitz zt'l, Essay 10, 5731).

"In the Midst of My People Do I Dwell"

The Zohar tells us, along these same lines, that when the Measure of Justice is extended over the world, it is not seemly for a person to mention himself before Hashem as a private individual. The Zohar learns this from the words of the Shunamite woman who, when asked by Elisha if there was any favor for which she required his intercession by the king, said, "I dwell in the midst of my people" (Melochim II, 4:13).

The Zohar explains that this took place on Rosh Hashonoh, the day when the entire world stands in judgment. And when Elisha suggested that he speak on her behalf to the king, he meant the King of the world, Hashem, Who was judging the world on that day. When she replied that she had no special wish, that she was living in the midst of her people, she meant to say that she did not wish to be mentioned in particular, to be set apart and taken notice of, but chose to suffice with being part of the general folk. So long as she was considered as part of the mass, she enjoyed all the privileges and benefits of that public, whereas if she were judged on her own merits she was in danger, even though Elisha was willing to vouch and intercede for her.

HaRav Shach zt'l, author of Avi Ezri, told of the reaction of the Ohr Somayach to a special request. When R' Meir Simcha became ill with the sickness from which he did not recover, one Torah leader suggested that cables be sent out en masse asking people to pray for his recovery. R' Meir Simcha himself rejected the suggestion, claiming that so long as he was being treated like any other person, he was still part of the general community. But if a public call went out for people to pray specifically for him, as a single person deserving special attention, then there would be a greater demand and a finer scrutiny placed upon him that he deserved to be singled out, and his danger would be so much the greater (Shimusha Shel Torah).

Prophecy Given to the Prophets in the Merit of the Klal

The leaders and outstanding figures of the generation accrue merit for the public at large on the basis of their righteousness. This applies even to the epitome of mankind, Moshe Rabbenu, himself. Upon the verse, "And Hashem said to Moshe: Go, descend, for your people has corrupted . . . " (Shemos 32:7), Chazal note that Hashem said, "Descend from your level of greatness. I gave you greatness ONLY for their sake" (Rashi, ibid.).

We find a similar thought conveyed in the prophecy of Yirmiyohu. His disciple, Boruch ben Neriya, complained that he had not been granted the same measure of prophecy as his fellow prophets: that is, like Yehoshua who served Moshe or Elisha who served Eliyohu. Hashem gave him the proper reply via a prophecy which Yirmiyohu prophesied: "And you seek greatness for yourself? Do not seek it" (45:5).

Chazal explain that Hashem told him, "If there is no vineyard, there is no fence, and if there is no flock, there is no shepherd. I reveal Myself to the prophet only in the merit of Israel" (Rashi, ibid.).

For, know, that the privilege of prophecy which a prophet is granted is only in the merit of the general public.

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