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Shabbat Parashat Devarim 5771

Ein Ayah: Choice of the Individual, Not the Collective

(condensed from Ein Ayah, Berachot 7:21)

Gemara:  [Regarding a full zimun of ten, in which Hashem’s Name is invoked,] nine regular men and one eved (an originally gentile servant of a Jew, who accepts to keep most mitzvot but is not a convert) can combine [to make the zimun].


Ein Ayah:  As the number of participants increases, so too the lofty and holy honor of the service of Hashem increases. However, we should realize that the main ability to reach shleimut (completeness) is through the ability to exercise free will and through it to have a realization of the full truth and straighten one’s path based on the dictates of the Torah and the mitzvot.

Therefore, the sanctification of Hashem, which requires a congregation, should not be formed by avadim who are subservient to their human master and whose actions are forced upon them without their own choice to act. This is part of the reason that the Torah distances us from slavery, as it says, “To Me are Bnei Yisrael servants” (Vayikra 25:55), which Chazal explained: “servants to Me and not servants to servants” (Kiddushin 22b). In a similar vein, the Yerushalmi (Berachot 3:3) says that the reason an eved is exempt from Kri’at Shema is that it is intended for those who have only one master. In other words, one’s recognition of Hashem’s Name must come from his own recognition, knowledge, and the pure emotions of his soul. This is based on the important rule that human shleimut is built on free will.

The thesis of the centrality of free will is true regarding the individual, as each person has full ability to choose his path for good or for bad. This is not so on the national level, in whose regard Hashem said, “I swear in My life, if not with a strong hand … I will rule over you” (Yechezkel 20:33).

From one perspective, the group is a collection of individuals. However, the collective has an advantage, in that there is no possibility for it to choose evil in a complete manner or forsake its relationship with Hashem. The element that is left to choice is whether the individuals who make up the collective will be of a higher or a lower level.

Ten is the minimal number that constitutes a group. Nine represents a maximum number of individuals, and when the tenth comes, he turns them into a collective. Let us remember that the shortcoming of the eved in this regard is his lack of free will, which is necessary of the individuals who make up the group. However, when a full complement of individuals is present and it is a question of turning it into a collective, the eved is capable, since on the level of the collective, the lack of full free will is less of an issue.

The Difference Between the Ninth and Tenth for a Minyan

(condensed from Ein Ayah, Berachot 7:22)


Gemara: How could [an eved count as the tenth]? Wasn’t a story related that Rabbi Eliezer did not find a tenth in shul and he released an eved from servitude in order to have a minyan? The story was that two were missing: one eved was released, and the other counted as is.


Ein Ayah: Since the element of creating the group is accomplished by the tenth, we can overlook the inability to choose only in regard to the tenth. However, regarding the nine who make up the individuals, who have to be able to complete themselves with clear recognition and free choice, an eved cannot join. The story of two avadim where one was freed and one did not need to be freed stresses the distinction between the shleimut of the individual and that of the nation, which is a foundation of the Torah upon which the covenant was made.

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