When we engage in a challenge together with other people, whether learning, chesed, exercise or healthy eating, our peers can be invaluable in keeping us on task and encouraging us to achieve our goals. However, a Stanford business study shows that as we near our goal, we tend to dump our friends and try to finish alone. Why is that? Because as we get close to the end, we turn our efforts into a competition. Not only do we not rely on our friends, but we also engage in efforts that sabotage the success of others in their efforts.
Rav Soloveitchik notes that the tameh met – someone who has become ritually impure as a result of being in contact with a dead body has two different purification procedures:
והזה הטהר על הטמא ביום השלישי וביום השביעי וחטאו ביום השביעי וכבס בגדיו ורחץ במים וטהר בערב. (Bamidbar 19:19)
Like all other spiritual impurities, the tameh met has to do tevilah – a ritual dip in a mikveh. That tevilah is something that he does on his own, through his own initiative.
Yet there is a unique second procedure to tameh met: haza’ah, the sprinkling of the ashes of the parah adumah – the red heifer. That sprinkling is not an act that the tameh can do on his own, but rather והזה הטהר על הטמא – he is dependant on someone else who is pure to sprinkle it on him.
Common impurities can be cleansed with one’s own initiative, whereas tumat met requires both human initiative and help from others.
We all encounter physical or spiritual pursuits that we could handle independently and pursuits where our success depends on others. If we become too caught up in our need for independent success and turn our friends away, it will be much harder to cross the finish line. Even as we think we have advanced far enough and can do the rest on our own, it is the support of others that ultimately gets us to the end.
Our sages tell us, this is the idea behind the importance of praying together with a minyan. Even if a person can attain great spiritual heights through personal prayer, collective prayer with a minyan ultimately helps us push our prayers to be accepted.
Rabbi Shlomo Gabay