Parashat Ekev is the source of two pesukim the Sefer Hachinuch uses to establish tefilah as a biblical commandment. One: “Et Hashem elokecha tira oto taavod uvo tidbak uvishmo tishavea”, You shall fear the Eternal, your God, worship him and adhere to his ways and then you may swear in his name” (Devarim 10/20). The other: “Vehaya im shamoa tishmeu… uleovdo bechol levavchem uvechol nafshechem”, If you heed to commandments… and to worship him with all your heart and your entire being” (Devarim 11/13). This latter pasuk serves as the source for the Midrash Halacha (Sifrei) quoted by the Rambam: “What is worship of the heart? It is prayer”. This Midrash serves as the basis for understanding all the other psukim which speak of “avodah”, worship, as tefilah. Though other Rishonim disagree and contend that Tefilah, on a regular basis, is only a Rabbinic decree, all agree that tefilah is a worship of the heart as derived from the pasuk “uleovdo bechol levavchem”. [For more on this see “Is Tefilah a Mitzvah?” https://torahmitzion.org/eng/resources/show.asp?id=388]
While tefilah is categorized as a worship of the heart, halacha does not prescribe isolation for tefilah. On the contrary, the gemarah (Berachot 8a) teaches that the truly desired tefilah is the public prayer.
The Rambam (Hilchot Tefilah 8/4) states: “What is public prayer? One prays out loud and all others listen.” Yet, when detailing the sequence of public prayer, the Rambam writes (Hilchot Tefilah 9/2-3): “All stand up immediately and pray (the amidah) silently and he who does not know how to pray stands silently until the shliach tzibur prays his silent prayer with the public… and after the shliach tzibur takes three step back he begins reciting out loud from the beginning of the blessings to assist those who did not pray, fulfill their obligation, and all others stand and listen and answer amen after each beracha, both those who had not previously fulfilled their requirement and those who already fulfilled their requirement.”
Rav Soloveitchik raised several questions about the Rambam’s position. If public prayer is that one prays and others listen, then why do we need everyone to pray silently? Secondly, why must the shliach tzibur say the silent prayer if he later recites it out loud? Lastly, it is understandable that those who did not recite the silent amidah must answer amen to the prayer recited by the shliach tzibur, expressing a connection and identification with that prayer. However, it is not clear why those who have said the prayer silently must answer amen to the shliach tzibur’s prayer?
In light of these questions, Rav Soloveitchik proposed that there are two different aspects of public prayer. There is the “tefilah betzibur”, a prayer recited in a public setting, and there is also a “tefilat hatzibur”, a prayer of the public. Tefilah betzibur is the prayer of the individual enriched by the presence of and a partnership with others. The ideal prayer is said for the public which is why our amidah is worded in the plural. When praying in the presence of others that sense of public identification is greatly enhanced.
Tefilat hatzibur is a single prayer brought forth by the entire public. Since such a public prayer cannot be recited by everyone, there must be a shaliach, emissary, who presets the prayer, hence, the shaliach tzibur. The shliach tzibur recites the prayer for the entire public and they, in turn, partake in the prayer by answering amen. A prerequisite for tefilat hatzibur is a formal quorum of ten men over the age of thirteen. It is in this setting that we add all the sections known as “devarim shebikdusha”, words of sanctity, such as kadish and kedusha.
Tefilah betzibur, on the other hand, may not need a formal quorum and may be accomplished in a more informal unity of individuals. This may be the reason Rabi Natan quoted in Berachot (8a) states “From where do we know haKadosh Baruch Hu does not detest the prayer of the ‘rabim’? Since it says…” The form Rabi Natan uses is rabim, many, not tzibur. It may also explain why from a halachik point of view there is a preference that an individual, who is unable to partake in the public prayer, recites his private prayer at the same time the public recites their prayer.
Accordingly, we may conclude that even in circumstances, such as a group of women, where there is no formal quorum and “devarim shebikdusha” may not be recited, there is a benefit to a group praying together.