Office of the Chief Rabbi

D’var Torah: Parashat Emor

It is a key passage in this week’s parasha that determines the number of men needed to form a minyan. Why, the Chief Rabbi enquires, do we base this number on 10 men whose actions were reprehensible rather than righteous? 

The Gemara in Masechet Megillah tells us that we know that 10 men constitute a minyan from this week’s parasha of Emor. God says v’nikdashti b’toch Bnei Yisrael, I shall be sanctified in the midst of the children of Israel.

It is not clear from this verse alone what we mean by the midst of a community; what constitutes a community? The Gemara tells us that the same term is used in Parashat Korach. There we are told Hi badelu mitoch haedah – Separate yourselves from the midst of this community.

And the term edah is also used in the sedra Shelach. There we are told Mara’a haedah hazot – how evil is this community – and there the reference is to the 10 evil spies who visited the land and came back with an irresponsible report.

‘We learn about a minyan from 10 people who seriously let our nation down’

Consequently we know that 10 men constitute a quorum for tefillah. I find this to be absolutely astonishing. It could be understood very well if the origin of a minyan could come from 10 Rabbis, 10 outstanding community leaders, 10 daveners, 10 believers, but we learn about a minyan from 10 people who seriously let our nation down. And as a result of their sins, we were condemned to stay for 40 long years in the wilderness before we entered into the Holy Land. And on top of that there is reference to the sympathisers of Korach, another group of people we wouldn’t readily identify with.

‘When it comes to our communities, everybody’s welcome, everybody counts’

Emerging from this I believe is a very powerful and strong message for us, and that is when it comes to minyan, when it comes to our communities, everybody’s welcome, everybody counts. We leave it up to God to decide who is worthy, who is not; as far as we’re concerned, if you’re religious or irreligious, and regardless of what you do or what you don’t do, we will reach out to you, you will have a place within our communities because everyone counts.

In communal life, exclusivity places a barrier between ourselves and Kiddush Hashem. Inclusivity is the way forward to guarantee that the presence of God will be found in the midst of our communities.

Shabbat Shalom.

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