Democracy in Judaism
Our Parashah includes the famous story about the spies whom Moses sent to check out the Land of Israel, in order to assess the land’s resources, and the military capacities of its inhabitants. Ten of the twelve spies submitted a defeatist report to the nation, and caused a devastating crisis of faith and morale.
The Almighty alludes to these ten spies who failed their mission as an “Edah”, which is Hebrew for “congregation” (Numbers 14:27). Rashi, in his commentary on this verse writes: “From the fact that the Almighty alludes to the ten spies who failed their mission as “congregation”, we learn that a minyan comprises of at least ten Jews”.
Why did the Torah choose of all incidents and of all people precisely these ten men who utterly failed their religious vocation to be the proof text for the fact that a minyan must comprise of at least ten souls? The answer lies in the following anecdote: A man once asked his rabbi: “What’s democracy in Judaism?” The Rabbi responded by saying that nine Jews who won the Nobel Prize in physics don’t make a minyan, but ten Jews who can’t even read and write in their own native tongue make a minyan, and that’s democracy in Judaism! That’s also the reason that the proof text for the fact that we need at least ten Jews for a minyan comes precisely from ten men who utterly failed their ultimate spiritual and religious test, and exhibited a pervasive lack of faith at a critical time in our nation’s history.
The message is that a Jew is a Jew is a Jew, and a soul is a soul is a soul. It doesn’t matter whether we are pious or not so pious, somewhat traditional or not traditional at all, good people or not so good, we are all equal before G-d, and as we stand before G-d in unison none of us counts more or less than others.