Michal asks: “I understand that according to the Torah Jews are responsible for one another and pray together in a minyan of 10. But today in modern society the feeling is ‘each man to himself’ and even neighbors aren’t close with each other. I can understand that living alone is not healthy but why does Judaism always seem to require that you are part of a group?”
Rabbi Daniel Balas answers:
Shalom and blessings and thank you for your question.
You asked: Why does G-d want us to live together as one nation, pray together and to be involved with our fellow man? Mussar books (about character development) touch on this basic topic and they explain the importance of mitzvoth between a man and his fellow man.
Our sages of blessed memory explained to us that mitzvoth were given to us to purify ourselves. The Torah purifies the soul just as a jeweler removes impurities stuck on the gems he is polishing. The sages also say that a man is measured by the way he measures others. If he is compassionate with others then he will be treated with compassion from heaven.
The relationship and involvement with others prepare our soul to be good and saintly and elevate us above nature. Without other people we couldn’t be good and saintly.
In order to understand this, imagine a person on a small island alone. Now let us ask, will he grow up to be righteous or evil? In order to answer that you’d have to look at his character traits. But what kind of traits could he develop or acquire? He never dealt with anger because he had no one to be angry at. He never dealt with guarding his tongue from slander and evil speech for there is no one to gossip about. He didn’t have to restrain himself from revenge or bearing a grudge for there was no one to exact revenge from or to bear a grudge against. He had no one to afflict with pain or hurt, no reason to lie for there was no one to lie to and no theft for he had no one to steal from. There was also no one to do kindness with.
No desirable character trait can develop without other people around because good traits need constant refinement of the soul, molding his personality according to his contact with other people. So it comes out that someone alone will never progress spiritually. Our sages already said “a knife doesn’t sharpen but with another knife”. Therefore the most uplifting Torah study is done with a study partner to the point that our sages said: “Either a study partner or death”. (Taanit 23a)
Without other people around a person cannot progress spiritually and he has no opportunity to overcome his inclinations and shape his desires, do kindness with others and to be a better person. This is what the sages of mussar meant when they said; “Your friend’s physical needs is your spiritualty.” Through your contact with others you get spiritually elevated. Therefore a person who is not married is considered a half a person because he hasn’t yet had the opportunity to elevate himself through having an emotional bond with his wife and giving to his children that he loves. This is what Rabbi Akiva meant when he said: “You should love your friend as yourself; this is a great rule in the Torah”. (Jerusalem Talmud, Nedarim 30) Through love a person merits to grow and grow.
G-d created man with the ability to choose between good and evil, with different inclinations like the desire to speak evilly, egocentrism and on the other hand empathy and consideration of others. Through making the right choices a person forms his personality with his own hands and raises his soul to merit the world to come with its strengths. That is why the Torah guides us to live together: “How goodly are your tents Jacob, your dwellings Israel”.( Numbers 24,5)
Through Judaism, Jews cease to live alone; they join in the united purpose of G-d’s nation. Thanks to Halacha-Jewish law Jews come into contact with one another and move their personal character traits forward through deeds of kindness, overcoming desires and giving to others.