I heard the following in the name of my teacher, Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, "the Rav," of blessed memory: The Torah relates (Numbers 13
) that God commanded Moses to send twelve men, each the prince of his tribe, to spy out the land of Canaan which He had promised to give to the Children of Israel. Two of them, Joshua and Caleb, came back with a positive report, affirming the promise of God to Israel and asserting that the campaign would succeed. Ten of the princes, however, were thoroughly discouraging and, in defiance of the divine promise, maintained that any effort to conquer the Land would fail. This report caused untold grief for generations thereafter. Remarkable: a whole nation witnessed so many obvious miracles--from the Ten Plagues to the splitting of the Red Sea, from the manna to the well of Miriam, etc.--and, despite all this, their faith in God was so thin, so fragile, that ten people out of a total population of probably more than 2,000,000 were able to sway them to doubt the divine promise. What demonic powers the ten must have possessed to cause such a tragic upheaval! But, the Rav adds, there is one more place in the Torah where we find the possibility of ten people to change the destiny of so many others: the plea of Abraham to save the sin-city of Sodom if at least ten tzaddikim (righteous people) would be found therein. So, ten people can overwhelm a vast number and lead them to physical and spiritual perdition, and ten people can save an entire populous city from utter devastation. To which I humbly add this explanation: Why ten? What properties does that specific number possess such that it can wield such enormous power both for good and for evil? The answer, I suggest, comes from the Halakha, where ten is considered the minimum number to constitute an edah (congregation) or tzibbur (community). If the ten are cohesive, if they are mutually dedicated to one overarching cause, they can overpower hundreds and thousands and even millions of individuals. A community of ten is almost omnipotent compared with far larger numbers of individuals who are unrelated and indifferent.