Anyone who has taken Route 443 to Yerushalayim knows that you must pass through the Ofer army checkpoint on the way. If I am driving a car, I lower my window and give a hearty “shalom” to the soldier who peers into my car and waves me on. But if I am on a bus, it takes a little longer. Two heavily armed soldiers board the bus and saunter down the aisle with their bulky bulletproof vests brushing against the seats. As soon as they ascertain that there are no unwanted visitors on board they allow the bus to continue. On 443 we are stopped just once – but if you try to enter a high security zone you must pass through numerous blockades. Only those who have high security clearance can be sure that they will make it through.
So why should this interest you? Well, you may not realize it, but you actually have to deal with many checkpoints every day. Rav Chaim Volozhiner (Ruach Chaim 2:13) explains that our prayers must rise through the heavens to Hashem’s throne of glory. Alas, at each level of heaven there is a tough checkpoint where our prayer is checked to see if it is good enough. If it was not said with enough kavana (concentration) and fear of Heaven, it may get turned away.
What can we do to ensure that our precious tefillos reach their destination? Daven with a minyan! Praying with a quorum of ten adult males confers upon our prayers special clearance that allows them to rise straight to the highest levels of heaven.
Indeed, the Gemara in Brachos (8a) states that when a tzibbur prays it is an “eis ratzon” – a time of good will and that Hashem never considers the tefillah of the tzibbur to be disgusting. Not only that, the Midrash (Devorim Rabba 2:12) says that when a tzibbur prays they never come away empty-handed!
The Shulchan Aruch writes (O.C. 90:9,16) that men are obligated to pray with a minyan and to go to great lengths to do so. The question is why. The answer: since davening with a minyan helps our prayers get accepted we are obligated to pray in the manner that will be best for our tefillos.
At this point, it is important to mention that although a woman who davens with a minyan will most definitely reap the benefits, she is not obligated to do so. Taking care of her family’s needs comes first, and is a merit to having her tefillos accepted. However, if possible, she should try to daven Shemoneh Esrei at the same time as her local shul, as it will give her the exalted status of “one who prays at the same time as the tzibbur.”
Now we need to understand: Why does davening with a minyan do so much?
On a simple level, we mentioned many times in this series that when we recite Shemoneh Esrei, the Shechinah dwells in front of a person. Meaning, Hashem comes to us and we have a real discussion with Him. The better one’s prayers are, and the more one feels that he is standing in front of Hashem, the more Shechinah there will be. That presence of Shechinah is what helps our tefillos be accepted. Chazal are teaching us that when ten men get together it brings about such an enormous level of Shechinah that our tefillos rise straight to heaven!
It goes further. The Kuzari (3:17-19) writes that few people are able to recite the entire Shemoneh Esrei without any mistakes or foreign thoughts entering their minds, resulting in tainted prayers. However, when we pray with a minyan we end up with a more complete tefillah since Hashem views us all as one unit. This is because even though I only had kavana for part of Shemoneh Esrei, since the other members of the minyan had kavana at other parts, Hashem puts it together and it is as if we all davened the entire Shemoneh Esrei with complete kavana! (According to this it makes sense to try to daven with people who put effort into davening properly. By being part of their minyan, not only will I be influenced by them, my prayer will be elevated by their excellent tefillos!)
The Kuzari adds that since a person who davens with a minyan is not viewed as an individual, if that tzibbur is worthy of being answered, he will be answered together with them even if on his own he is not worthy. The Kuzari compares it to a country that merits rain; even the fields of those who don’t deserve it will get watered.
Finally, the famed mashgiach, Rav Yechezkal Levenstein zt”l, used to say that every Jew must know the words of the Ramban in the end of Parshas Bo where he explains the basic tenets of our faith and the purpose of all the mitzvos. One of the lessons he teaches is “…and this is why we raise our voices when we pray and why we gather together to pray in the Bais H’aknesses, and why the tefillos of the tzibbur have more merit – so that there will be a place where we can gather together and thank our Creator and say in front of Him: ‘We are Your creations!’”
The Ramban clearly states that the power of tefillah b’tzibbur is that our prayers turn from being a private affair into a public declaration of Hashem’s unity and kingship. The fact that we are performing a Kiddush Hashem makes our tefillos dearer to Hashem!
Knowing all the above should have great ramifications. First, that we should not view the other members of the minyan as people I am using to help my prayers rise to heaven. Rather, we should view ourselves and the minyan as one unit and members of the same team; a team that shares the goal of raising the banner of Hashem’s glory!
Second, in order to be considered davening together with the tzibbur the opinion of the Mishneh Berurah is that you must start Shemoneh Esrei basically at the same time that the minyan does. Even though there are other opinions, we definitely want to make sure that we have the full power of praying with the tzibbur. Knowing this will help us come on time to davening so that we can actually daven with the minyan.
Third, we will plan our trips and vacations in a way that will ensure that we will not miss a single tefillah b’tzibbur. And if we have to daven on an airplane, we will try to arrange a minyan even up in the skies. Of course, one should consult the flight crew regarding when and where to make the minyan so that it will not disturb them or other passengers. (Note: If you know that you will not have any kavana if you daven with the minyan on the plane, many poskim say it is better to daven on your own.)
After reading this article, if you hear someone say “Where can I catch a minyan?” I hope it will bother you. “Catch!?” Like, as if to say, you want to just barely make it? No way! A minyan is like a chest of diamonds! “Where can I merit to daven with a minyan?” is more like it!