Stand Up and Be Counted
Why pray in a minyan? The Baal HaTanya writes that the Divine Presence in a minyan is so strong that if an angel tried to enter, it would be burnt by the holiness...
by Dennis Rosen
If someone leaves the synagogue after a minyan and is not happy and smiling, something is wrong. When my friend recently told me this I looked deep inside and realized that I had work to do. I needed to do some research to develop a fuller appreciation of the power of praying in a minyan.
Rebbe Nachman was the foremost advocate of personal prayer, calling hitbodedut the highest of all virtues. It’s therefore noteworthy to see what he taught about public prayer in Sefer HaMiddos:
When a person prays in a synagogue, it is as if he brought a pure meal offering.
God can be found in the synagogue.
The prayers of an individual are not listened to unless he prays with an attentive heart. But the prayers of a congregation are heard even if they don't all pray wholeheartedly.
When a community prays, it is a time of favor.
Come early and stay late in the synagogue so that you will live a long life.
When the masses pray together, their prayers are more effective than when they pray in separate places.
All for one and one for all
I then found this powerful principle:
Before the prayer of an individual enters to be crowned in its place, the Blessed Holy One scrutinizes it, gazes at it, and beholds the sins and merits of the individual. However this is not true of prayers of a congregation. Many prayers are not from the righteous, but they still enter before the Blessed Holy One, and He does not look at their sins. Zohar 1:234b (Tosefta)
Rabbi Heshy Kleinman explains in Praying with Fire 2, that when the focus is on one individual, his every fault is plain to see. When that person melds into a group, however, the overall spirit of the group overrides the traits of its individual members. To a certain extent, this principle helps explain why a minyan creates an Eis Ratzon (favorable time) for prayer.
Rabbi Kleinman notes that the Gemara explains that praying with a minyan can even compensate for a lack of concentration by any one member of the minyan at any given time. Different people will have concentration during different portions of the Shemoneh Esrei and all of these parts will combine into one powerful sincere Shemoneh Esrei ascending to heaven.
A unique opportunity – not to be missed
The prophet Isaiah advises us to seek Hashem when he can be found. Call upon him when he is near. It is for this reason that one is advised to utilize special periods of closeness such as the 10 days of repentance to reach out to Hashem in prayer. However the Gemara Rosh Hashanah on page 18 explains that the concept of distance and closeness applies only to one who is praying alone. Hashem is always receptive to the prayers of a minyan.
The Top Ten
The Talmud tells us that wherever there are ten men, the Divine Presence appears. But this Presence does not only appear after the minyan is assembled; by tradition, the Divine Presence appears before the minyan and “waits” for people to come, alone in the empty synagogue.
The Talmud tells us that the man who gets there first receives the greatest reward of all, alone with the Divine Presence. Additionally there is special merit to being one of the first ten men to arrive.
The Mishnah in Pirkei Avos 3:6 states, "When ten are sitting… the Divine Presence rests amongst them." For this reason, according to the Shulchan Aruch HaRav 101:5 the prayer of a minyan is considered more effective than private prayer, because no interceding angels are needed to propel the prayer to Hashem. Rather, the prayers are accepted immediately.
Special prayers: your presence is needed
In addition, when praying with a minyan, one is able to say and/or hear many prayers that are only recited with a minyan (for example Kaddish and the repetition of the Amidah which includes Kedushah and Borchu). These prayers are so awesome that they require the holiness that only a minyan can provide.
We should appreciate how wondrous these moments really are. For example when we answer Yehei Shmei Rabbah to the Kaddish, according to Rabbi Yehoshua Ben Levi, this can avert severe decrees against us and all Israel.
In the year 5674 – 1914, the Chofetz Chaim issued a public proclamation about the great benefit of praying with a minyan. “It is the requirement upon every man to go to shul with his sons every day to pray with a minyan, Shacharis, Mincha and Maariv, to answer amen, Yehe Shmei Rabbah and Borchu, because through that many decrees upon Israel are nullified every day. It is a great Merit for those who are prompt since they bring salvation upon Jews.”
Awesome power and joy
The Baal HaTanya writes that the Divine Presence in a minyan is so strong that if an angel tried to enter, it would be burnt by the holiness. The Aruch Hashulchan states that the reason for having a minyan is that when you do so, automatically the Shechina - Hashem’s presence, manifests there as well.
May we work on our frequency and consistency of attendance. May we elevate the joy, devotion and intent with which we participate. This will surely enhance our individual contribution to the communal prayer effort and bring blessings to us and all Israel.