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Parashat Behukotai: The Unparalleled Power of a Group

The opening verses of Parashat Behukotai tell of the great rewards which G-d promises to grant Beneh Yisrael if they observe the Torah. One of these rewards is military prowess, victory over our enemies. G-d promises, "Five of you will pursue one hundred, and one hundred of you will pursue ten thousand; and your enemies shall fall before you by the sword" (26:8). Our nation’s military will be so powerful that just five will be able to pursue and subdue 100 enemy troops, and 100 will be able to pursue and subdue 10,000.

Rashi already takes note of the fact that the "mathematics" in this verse don’t seem to add up. If five of our soldiers will be able to pursue 100 enemy soldiers – a ratio of 1:20 – then we would expect that 100 of our soldiers should be able to pursue 2,000 – twenty times their number. Yet, the Torah says that 100 soldiers will succeed in pursuing 10,000 – a 1:100 ratio.

To explain this asymmetry in the verse, Rashi writes, "A few who perform the Torah are not the same as many who perform the Torah." Rashi here establishes the concept of exponential increase. When larger numbers of people come together, their potential increases not proportionally, but exponentially. Ten people working together can accomplish not twice that which five people can accomplish, but many times more than what five people can accomplish. As the number of people increases, their capabilities are multiplied manifold. And thus, indeed, if five can pursue 100, then 100 can pursue not just twenty times that amount, but 100 times that amount.

The Hafetz Haim (Rav Yisrael Meir Kagan, 1839-1933), in his Bi’ur Halacha (155), elaborates on this concept in regard to the study of Torah. The Shulhan Aruch (Orah Haim 155:1) writes that one is obligated to set times for the study of Torah, and the Hafetz Haim comments that although this obligation Is fulfilled even if one learns alone, nevertheless, "optimally, it is a Misva to enhance [one’s study] as much as possible by learning in a group, because this way, greater honor is given to G-d." The Hafetz Haim proceeds to cite numerous statements from the Sages teaching that one earns greater reward for learning Torah in a group, together with other people, than he does by learning alone. Furthermore, although the Shechina is present whenever a person learns Torah, when a group assembles to learn, the Shechina comes first to greet them. Moreover, the Sages teach us that Torah knowledge cannot be acquired unless one studies together with a group of people. If a person learns alone, he might misunderstand the material without even realizing that he misunderstands, as there is nobody to clarify the matter for him. In a group, mistakes and misunderstandings are generally avoided. And, when people learn together, they ask questions, discuss, argue and debate, thereby clarifying and crystallizing the information.

Today, the blessings of technology have made it possible for each and every person to learn at all times, wherever he is. This is truly a wonderful blessing, and everybody should take full advantage of the opportunity to hear Torah classes while traveling, during a break at work, or when there is time at home. However, as precious and valuable as this learning is, nothing can compare to the power of a group that assembles to learn Torah together. The impact of 50 people learning together is far, far greater than 50 times that of a person who learns alone; it is exponentially more powerful. Let us take advantage of not only the myriad opportunities offered by technology for individual study, but also the countless opportunities we have in our community to get together with others to learn Torah and bring glory to the Almighty.

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