“Let’s get it together, together”, taught Reb Zalman Z”L. The power of togetherness as both a spiritual incubator and spiritual safe-haven is the core purpose of the Jewish Minyan (a prayer quorum of ten on more people) and of Jewish spiritual community in general. Why ten? Because, according to the Kabbalah, the world is established upon ten unique qualities, known as the ten Sefirot. The balanced presence of those ten ingredients makes any entity whole and complete. Ten or more people praying together allows the full array of the inner ten flavors to manifest into an interpersonal symphony that lifts up everyone involved. That is the function of spiritual community and of Minyan specifically.
You know it when you feel it, and you like it when you taste it.
In fact, the practice of communal spiritual practice is not unique to Judaism but rather universal. Christians have prayer groups, Sufi’s have Zik’r circles, Buddhists have Sanghas, Native Americans gather in the medicine circle, and so on. Spiritual development and spiritual nourishment very rarely happen in solitude. Warner Erhard, an American thought-leader of the 1970s, said “If God wanted people to function in solitude, God, instead of continents, could have created one-person islands all over the world’s oceans to accommodate everyone, but S/He didn’t”.
We, humans, are social creatures for purposes that are both physical and spiritual. Together, we get it together, and rise to where alone, each one of us would not have been able to reach. The whole is larger than the sum of its parts. We thrive in intentional social settings enhancing our joy and the wellbeing of our spirits. The weekly attendance at a Shabbat Minyan can be for the soul what nutrients and fluids are for the body.
One must acknowledge, though, that the beauty and power of communal Shabbat practices have been substituted by some practitioners in some communities with adherence to dry lists of do and don’t. Some of us have experienced Shabbat as restrictive, dull, overly “religious”, oppressive and more. Others haven not experienced Shabbat at all, as for many Shabbat was lost when our ancestors replaced Jewish traditions with modernity.
It is, though, within our reach to simply reclaim the deep spirituality and satisfying social dynamics available when we gather on Friday night to pray, play and feast. The lights of the candles are reflections of the light within us. The sounds of singing are the sounds of the heart’s innert melody. The sharing of experiences, aspirations, inspirations, and thoughtful discourse are expressions of the brilliance within each one of us. The sweet encounter with new and old friends reflects the The encounter with The Friend we sometimes call The Holy One Blessed Be, הקדוש ברוך הוא.
I look forward to co-creating a peaceful “sanctuary in time”, a Shabbat, a few hours of retreat, this Friday night, when we will get together to spiritually get-it-together.
Rabbi Reuben Modek