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Thought for the Day: The Advantage of Communal Prayer

At the bottom of daf 7b in masechta Brachos, R' Yitzchak asked R' Nachman why he hadn't come to shul to daven ma'ariv the night before.  R' Nachman answered that he was feeling a bit shvach ("weak" for you yankee doodle dandies).  R' Yitzchak asked if R' Nachman would like him to arrange for a minyan at his home.  R' Nacham demurred as he didn't feel it was worth bothering everyone for that.  R' Yitzchak rejoined that he should at least have the shaliach tzibur come tell R' Nachman that they were about to daven so he could daven at the same time.  R' Nachman expressed some surprise that there was any advantage to davening at the same time as the tzibur/community was davening.  R' Yitzchak said, "Oh, yes!  As R' Yochanan said in the name of R' Shimon ben Yochai..."

At this point, the story continues onto 8a, so just like I was left with that cliff hanger, I'll take this opportunity while I have your rapt attention to give a bit of background from the Maharsha.  (Ok, so I wasn't left in suspense long, but I did have to turn a page because I was using an ArtScroll gemara.)  The Maharsha begins by noting that a beis medrash, even a private beis medrash (ie, the kitchen table for me) has higher k'dusha than a beis k'nessess and so it is better to daven in a beis medrash, even a private one, than a beis k'nessess.  R' Yitzchak knew that R' Nachman didn't have a beis medrash at home, otherwise the conversation would not have even started.  One more point from the Maharsha: no proof is needed that davening with a minyan is good; that's obvious.

So what did R' Yochanan say in the name of R' Shimon ben Yochai?  "v'ani t'filasi lecha, HaShem, eis ratzon" -- May my prayer to you, HaShem, be at a propitious time.  "t'filasi" -- my (singular) prayer.  What is a propitious time (for an individual to daven)?  It can only be at the time the the congregation is davening.  (See!  No proof, just assertion.)

Given that, what is the advantage of davening with a minyan?  Just daven when the congregation is davening and you should be good to go.  No, says the Maharsha (further explaining the gemara), davening alone but when the congregation is davening is better then davening alone at other times, but not as good as davening with the congregation.  Davening with the congregation comes with an additional guarantee; namely, that HaShem will never be disgusted with communal prayer.

I never really understood how great that is until I had grandchildren, because of another incident that I never really understood until I had grandchildren.  I had been told that once when I was barely a year old, my grandfather was holding my on his lap during dinner.  Someone noticed that the baby (that would be me) was drooling and it was getting on my grandfather's plate.  He responded, "So?  It's my grandson."

The fact that HaShem is never disgusted by communal prayer is not because of His amazing tolerance... it is because of His amazing love for us.


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