This weekend, March 13, 2020, will witness the first weekend without an Orthodox Shabbat minyan in Westchester County NY in probably 150 years, as the coronavirus pandemic hit this community very directly. It is so severe, that the National Guard is being deployed in New Rochelle. Other shuls around the state, country and world are also canceling their organized services.
The concept of at least ten men gathering for prayer together is considered to originate in Genesis 18, where Abraham argues with God to spare the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah from destruction. In verse 23, Abraham asks God “Will You sweep away the innocent along with the guilty?” He proceeds to argue that a large city should be spared if there are 50 good people living there. When God agrees, Abraham pushes further to lower the threshold to 45, then 40, 30, all of the way down to 10 people at which point he stops. He seemed to acknowledge that the minimum viability for a city is ten good people.
Sages used this story as the foundation to decide on a quorum and instituted a policy of ten men over the age of thirteen to be the baseline for a minyan where certain prayers and activities could take place, such as reading from the Torah.
But this week – the week after the holiday of Purim which saw the world turned upside down 2,400 years ago – is witnessing the flipping of a minyan on its very foundation. Whereas Abraham called for ten good men to save a city, the pandemic is prohibiting ten good men from assembling together. While the lack of ten doomed two cities, hundreds and thousands of good people are getting sick and under quarantine.
When Abraham argued with God to save Sodom and Gomorrah, he did not ask if ten people were assembled in one place together; he just cared that there was a decent number of righteous people living in the area. So we ask and pray today, at a time when people are not able to congregate at their synagogues but must daven at home, may God realize the breadth and depth of good and righteous people living in our towns and bring peace and health to everyone.
Related First One Through articles:
Subscribe YouTube channel: FirstOneThrough