The haftorah for parshas Shemos takes place in Yeshayahu, within perakim 27-29. The majority of the haftorah deals with the decrepit spiritual state of the kingdoms of Yisrael and Yehuda before they were exiled. In it Yeshaya reprimands the Jewish people: “These, too, erred because of wine and strayed because of liquor; priest and prophet erred because of liquor, they became corrupt because of wine; they went astray because of liquor, they erred against the seer, they caused justice to stumble. For all tables were filled with vomit and ordure, without place” (Yeshayahu 28:7, 8).
Based on the second pasuk quoted, Rebbe Shimon, in Pirkei Avos says: “Three people who eat at a table and do speak words of Torah by it, it is as if they ate from dead sacrifices (i.e. offering brought for idolatry) as it says ‘For all tables were filled with vomit and ordure, without place’ (Yeshayahu 28:7, 8). However, three that ate at a table together and speak words of Torah is as if they ate at Hashem’s table, as it is written, ‘And he spoke to me, this is the table that is before Hashem. (Yechezkel 41:22). Rashi on Pirkei Avos points out that people generally fulfill this obligation of saying words of Torah at the table with birkas hamazon (Grace After the Meal).
The Rabbeinu Yona
gives a sharp rebuke and lamentation when explaining the first half of this Mishna: “This means to say that all tables are as if they are filled with idolatrous offerings, which are considered like vomit and ordure, since words of Torah were not said by them. For when three people sit together they are called a group (chabura), they are able to create a zimun for birkas hamazon, and people should not get together only for their own enjoyment. So when there are no words of Torah amongst them, which is unlatching the yoke of Torah, and they are eating and drinking and enjoying themselves without thinking about the Torah in their hearts, woe to them and woe to their enjoyment!” (Click here for Hebrew text)
The Mishna is talking about a group of at least three people who come together to feast and have a fun time. While they might have even made brachos before eating, they did not say birkas hamazon at the end of the meal and they certainly did not speak any words of Torah during the meal; this the sages call lawlessness, and it is equated to idolatry. Why is there such a severe stance for a group eating together like this? There is no indication that they believe in another god; and why does this apply to three or more people eating together? Shouldn’t the same issue apply if an individual was not learning with a sefer (Torah book) while eating, or when two people are eating together?
It might be true that it is inappropriate to eat alone or with a friend without mentioning a word of Torah, and it is certainly wrong not to bentch after the meal, but this setting does not cause such a severe aura of idolatry. However when coming together as a group to enjoy themselves with eating and drinking without any mention of Hashem when together that creates a setting of lawlessness; a feeling of being in there own bubble outside the world of Torah which is akin to idolatry.
We find the opposite extreme as well. Chazal teach us that our prayers are under much scrutiny when davening by ourselves but when ten or more men come together to make a minyan everyone is equal. There is also a concept of birov am hadras melech, the more people who come together to perform a mitzvah the more honor is given to the King Of All Kings, for example it is better to hear megilla on Purim in a larger congregation.
We see that there is sometimes a qualitative effect on the quantity of people that come together for good or for bad. Numbers set standards, create impressions, that’s the power in the numbers!