Posted by: Subway Conductor | June 4, 2021

A Derasha on Parshat Shelach

           This week’s Torah portion relates the well-know story of the spies. Twelve spies were sent by Moses “to scout out the Land of Canaan.”. However, ten of the spies brought back a discouraging report of the Land saying that “the Land does indeed flow with milk and honey,” but, that the inhabitants were giants and the cities were fortified making it impossible for the Israelites to conquer. As a result of hearing this report, the people were distraught and they wept.  They complained bitterly to Moses and, “they said to one another, ‘let us go back to Egypt.’”  The consequences of this episode were tragic and far-reaching. The bad report of the spies led to the forty years of wandering in the wilderness and ultimately the day on which the spies returned with their report became a day which for all of Jewish history has become a date of tragedy – Tisha B’Av.  However, there is another far-reaching consequence from the story of the spies that may surprise you.

           We know that for the leader of the service to repeat the Shemoneh Esre, or, for the Torah and Haftarah portions to be read publicly, or, to recite the Kaddish, there must be a minyan – an assembly of ten men.  From where do we know the concept of the requirement of a minyan and how do we know that it must be a minimum of ten?

           The Talmud derives both of these from a method of interpreting the Torah known as gezera shava. (If you look in the siddur at the beginning of the morning service, we have the paragraph which begins, “Rabbi Yishmael says: Through thirteen rules is the Torah elucidated.” The second of these rules listed is gezera shava.) A gezera shava is when the Torah uses the same word in two different verses and we learn something from the word in one verse and apply what we learn to the second verse. The two verses may be totally unrelated in their subject matter and may be in different books of the Torah. The rabbis did not search out the Torah for words that were used in more than one verse. There would have been an enormous number of gezera shavas if this were the case. Rather, the rabbis had a tradition that was transmitted to them concerning particular pairs of words.

           To discover the fact that ten constitutes a minyan requires two gezera shavas. The first involves the word “among.” One verse says, “And I (G-d) shall be sanctified among the children of Israel.” (Leviticus 22:32) The second verse states, “Separate yourselves from among the congregation.” (Numbers 16:21) This verse refers to the rebellious congregation of Korach.  We see the use of the word “among” in both verses. From the second verse we understand that it refers to a “congregation.” Therefore, when the verse states, “And I shall be sanctified among the children of Israel,” it must also imply the presence of a congregation.

           The second gezera shava involves the word “congregation.” We just found this word in the verse from Numbers 16, “Separate yourselves from among the congregation.”  It also occurs in this week’s portion. “How long shall the evil congregation exist?” (Numbers 14:27) This verse refers to the “congregation” of the spies sent by Moses to search out the Land of Canaan. There were, of course, twelve spies. However, two of them – Caleb and Joshua – did not participate in the discouraging report. Therefore, the “evil congregation” only refers to ten of the spies. Hence, “congregation” here implies ten. This meaning can now be read back into the first verse. “Separate yourselves from among the congregation.” And by extension, we learn that a congregation is at least ten.   Since we already learnt from the first gezera shava that the verse “And I will be sanctified among the children of Israel” implies a congregation, we now know that an assembly of ten is required wherever G-d is to be sanctified, as, for instance, when we read the Torah or recite Kaddish.

           This may seem complicated, but this kind of reasoning is standard in rabbinic thought. It is based on the foundational belief that every word of the Torah is significant and conveys meaning. The repetition of a word, in certain instances, can be the basis for a halachah.

           We can learn something else important from this proof for an assembly of ten being required to fulfil some of our most important ritual obligations. As we have seen, the number ten is derived from the story of the spies. They are referred to as “an evil congregation.”  What does this teach us? It informs us that the congregation required does not have to be a bunch of tzaddiqim – pious and righteous Jews. They only have to be Jews. When we daven, we may daven with Jews of various levels of observance or non-observance. We don’t ask questions. The ten men who are the proof for the fact that ten is the minimum requirement for a congregation were the ten spies who brought back the evil report about the Land of Israel that led to disastrous consequences. No matter – they are a congregation!

Good Shabbos!!For more of the Rabbi’s derashas, please click here for the “Rabbi’s Corner.”


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