Ayin Hara and Minyan

Hashem Elokei Avoseichem yosef aleichem kachem elef pe’amim (1:11)

In the middle of his rebuke of the Jewish nation, Moshe blessed them that Hashem should increase their population 1,000-fold. The Midrash (Devarim Rabbah 1:11) cryptically comments that our verse is what Dovid Hamelech had in mind when he wrote (Tehillim 5:8), Vaani b’rov chasdecha avo beisecha eshtachaveh el heichal kadshecha b’yirasecha — And I (Dovid), through Your tremendous kindness, will come into Your House, and I will prostrate myself toward Your Holy Sanctuary in awe of You — a verse which has no apparent connection to Moshe’s blessing. What is the meaning of this Midrash?

Harav Elyakim Devorkes notes that the Gemara in Yoma (22b) rules that it is forbidden to count the Jewish people, even for the purpose of performing a mitzvah, since doing so could make them subject to an ayin hara (evil eye) which may reduce their numbers. Although one may not perform a headcount of Jews, it is permitted to count them via proxy, as was done in the desert when the census was taken by counting the half-shekels contributed by each person (Shemos 30:12-14).

Before beginning the daily prayer services, one often must look around the room to make sure that a minyan of 10 adult men is present. However, it is forbidden to do so by counting the individual people present (Pri Chodosh Orach Chaim 55). Instead, it has become customary to choose a verse which has 10 words and to recite one word of the verse when pointing to each person present in the room (Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 15:3). If one is able to finish the entire verse, this is an indication that the required quorum is present. One such example of a verse with 10 words is the aforementioned verse in Tehillim which is quoted by the Midrash.

Rav Devorkes explains that when Moshe blessed the Jewish people that they should become numerous, the Midrash questioned how this blessing can be fulfilled. Since Jews are required to pray with a minyan, one who performs a headcount to see if the required 10 men are present will inadvertently invite an ayin hara to strike the people and reduce their numbers, thereby nullifying Moshe’s blessing. The Midrash resolves this dilemma by answering that instead of counting the individual Jews present, one may count them using the words of the verse in Tehillim, which will spare them from the threat of the ayin hara and allow Moshe’s blessing to come to fruition!

Q: In the middle of his rebuke of the Jewish people, Moshe blessed them (1:11) that Hashem should increase their population 1,000-fold. Rashi writes that they responded by questioning why Moshe gave a limit to their blessing, as Hashem had blessed Avrohom that his descendants should be so numerous that they could not be counted. Moshe responded that Hashem’s blessing still stood, and he was merely giving his own blessing. If Hashem gave them a greater blessing, what was the purpose in Moshe giving a more limited blessing?

Q: Moshe sent messengers to the king of Cheshbon to ask permission for the Jews to pass through his land and offering to buy food and drink along the way (2:26-28). Why did they need to obtain food and drink when the manna and well provided all of their needs?

A: The Sifsei Chachamim explains that while Hashem’s blessings were greater and unlimited, they were also conditional upon the Jewish people observing the mitzvos. Moshe’s blessing, albeit more limited than Hashem’s, was unconditional. However, Harav Aharon Leib Steinman, shlita, questions why Moshe would want to bless them in a situation in which they aren’t observing the laws of the Torah.

A: The Paneiach Raza answers that the manna only fell when the Jewish people were in the wilderness. When they passed through an inhabited area, it temporarily ceased falling, thereby requiring them to purchase food from the local residents. He adds that the Torah alludes to this when it records (Shemos 16:35) that the Jews ate the manna until they arrived in an inhabited land.

Originally from Kansas City, Rabbi Ozer Alport graduated from Harvard, learned in Mir Yerushalayim for five years, and now lives in Brooklyn, where he learns in Yeshivas Beis Yosef, is the author of the recently-published sefer Parsha Potpourri, and gives weekly shiurim. To send comments to the author or to receive his Divrei Torah weekly, please email oalport@Hamodia.com.