Inviting the Shechinah

Rabbi Chalafta ben Dosa of Kefar Chanania used to say: If ten men sit together and occupy themselves with the Torah, the Divine Presence rests among them as it is written (Psalm 82:1) “God has taken his place in the divine council.” And from where do we learn that this applies even to five? Because it is written (Amos 9:6) “And founds his vault upon the earth.” And how do we learn that this applies even to three? Because it is written (Psalm 82:1) “In the midst of the gods he holds judgment.” And from where can it be shown that the same applies even to two? Because it is written (Malachi 3:16) “Then those who revered the LORD spoke with one another. The LORD took note and listened.” And from where even of one? Because it is written (Exodus 20:24) “In every place where I cause my name to be remembered I will come to you and bless you.” (m.Avot 3:7)

If you’ve been keeping up with the various mishnayot of Pirkei Avot, you know that there have been many others that have emphasized the importance of Torah study and being engaged in the Holy Text. Rabbi Chalafta ben Dosa’s mishnah is another reinforcement on this concept. Why is this concept so important? Because the more we are engaged in the Scriptures, the more they will be on the forefront of our minds. And the more we think about them, the more likely we will be able to let them guide our decisions at any given moment.

Think about the temptation of our Master Yeshua. At three different points he was tempted by the Adversary. The Satan even quoted the Torah to lure Yeshua into his schemes. However, Yeshua used the very same Torah to rebuke the Satan, because he knew it inside and out. How many temptations could we have avoided if we had abided in the Scriptures as Yeshua and our sages?

Rabbi Chalafta ben Dosa knew that value and wanted to show that through engagement of Torah study a transformation can take place in anyone. But what does he mean that the “Divine Presence rests among them”? The passage he quotes (Psalm 82:1) uses the phrase Elohim nitzav, which means that God is standing. Chalafta ben Dosa uses this to tell us that even when the members of the Fellowship of the Torah go their own way, the Shechinah continues to abide, or stand, with the individuals in the merit of their previous endeavor.

But why does Rabbi Chalafta feel the need to show that groups of a lesser number of people, and even individuals, can have the Shechinah rest among them also? Beginning with ten men, he shows the merit of studying Torah as a congregation (since ten men constitute a minyan, therefore a congregation) and how it connects the Shechinah, Hashem’s Divine Presence, to those who are occupied with it. He then works his way through smaller groups of five, and then two, and then to a single individual. Using the proof text from Exodus, he claims that even one person who is faithful to study Torah, even though he may not have the benefit of being with the community, invites the Shechinah to reside with him, as it is written: “In every place where I cause my name to be remembered I will come to you and bless you.”

In the same way Avraham Avinu argued with Hashem as to how few people it would take to forfend divine wrath, Rabbi Chalafta argues that numbers do not matter when it comes to experiencing this promise for whoever would occupy themselves in Torah study. Arguing from ten down to one, he shows that even if an individual engages in the Torah by himself, then the Shechinah is able to take up residence with him.

When we are occupying ourselves through Torah study and the performance of the mitzvot we are causing His name to be remembered. Every time we have an opportunity to study Torah, especially as a community, we are welcoming the Divine Presence, and asking for that blessing to remain with us, as we have learned from Exodus 20:24, “In every place where I cause my name to be remembered I will come to you and bless you.” Therefore, He promises to come and bless us. Who doesn’t want Hashem to abide with us and to bless us? I sure do.