An evil report leads to community


This week’s Torah portion is Shelach, Numbers 13:1-15:41.

This week we encounter the 12 men sent to scout out the land of Canaan. After 40 days, the scouts return and describe a bountiful land. But, 10 of the scouts warn, the land is filled with large and powerful residents who could easily overcome the Israelites. The other two scouts, Caleb and Joshua, argue that the Israelites have the strength to overcome them.

In an interesting twist, the number of spies who delivered the evil report about the land is the same as the number of adults required for prayer quorum, or minyan. The 10 spies are referred to as an edah — the term used for a congregation or community of worshippers. Various sources debate the origin of the number in a minyan. Megillot 23b claims that this parshah is the origin (Numbers 14:27) while others identify the origin of 10 to Genesis 18:32, when Abraham pleads that Sodom be spared if 10 righteous men are found there.

For 11 months, the significance of a minyan, 10 people, played a significant role in my life. I had lost my beloved father and took on the responsibility of reciting the Mourners Kaddish. I hurriedly departed from work to arrive at evening services to honor and commemorate my father. A minyan meant that despite my grief, I felt supported by the community I was worshipping with.

When the Temple stood in Jerusalem, mourners entered a special gate and walked along a “Mourners Path.” As they walked, other members of the community greeted them with a blessing. Individuals who walked in the opposite direction, former mourners who had made it through, affirmed by their presence the possibility of healing. Mourners could be comforted that they would not walk the path of the mourner forever.

My path as a mourner at times felt like it was going to last forever, but over the months, others who also rose to recite the Mourners Kaddish, marked their 11th month of mourning and then the first yahrzeit. As new mourners joined the minyan, I was reminded of my heavy initial grief and reflected on where I was on my own grief journey. My 11 months were coming to an end, my grief still present, I realized that in losing my father, I had gained an edah, a community of fellow worshippers.

Questions for discussion

Are there times that you or your family has felt supported by others?

How did they support you?

What are some ways your family can support others? n

Luisa Moss is director of youth and education for Tikvat Israel Congregation in Rockville.

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