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Everybody is doing it!

Everybody is doing it!

And there was quarreling between the herdsmen of Abram’s cattle and those of Lot’s cattle… Abram said to Lot, “Let there be no strife between you and me, between my herdsmen and yours, for we are kinsmen. Is not the whole land before you? Let us separate: If you go north, I will go south; if you go south, I will go north.” Lot looked about him and saw how well watered was the whole plain of the Jordan, all of it… So Lot chose for himself the whole plain of the Jordan… Abram remained in the land of Canaan, while Lot settled in the cities of the Plain, pitching his tents near Sodom. Now the inhabitants of Sodom were very wicked sinners against the Lord. (Bereshit 13:7-13)

 

Lot found [Abraham’s] argument quite rational. He seems to have been waiting only for some such opportunity. Wandering in inhospitable regions could not have appealed to a man like him. What he wanted was a rich luxurious district, protected against famine and scarcity, and that he found. “Lot looked about him [literally, lifted up his eyes],” he let himself be guided, undeterred by any consideration which would affect an Abraham, simply by what appealed to his sensuous eyes. (Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch).

 

Lot ignored the fact that his relocation placed him among the wicked inhabitants of Sodom and that acting differently from the new group may be hard and that he and his family would have to make new friends and fit into a new environment or that peer pressure would result in behaving in a manner that would not fit in with his sense of right and wrong.

 

We think of peer pressure in connection with teenagers who engage in foolish and even self-destructive behavior to fit in with their friends or to emulate the “in” kids. Is all peer pressure centered on young people? Does this pressure cease when we become adults? Adults are not immune to influence from the people around them. . At all stages of life there are peer pressures put on us by those with whom we mix and mingle day by day.  Lot chose to settle on the most fertile land, ignoring the fact that it placed him among the wicked inhabitants of Sodom. And even though Lot was saved from the destruction of the evil city, his wife and most of his family were still destroyed.

Perhaps Lot believed he could simply ignore the negative behavior around him and go about his business. Perhaps he did not realize the power of the argument “but everybody else is doing it”. When a person is with a group, it is difficult t to differ in opinion to buck the trend and separate from most others.

The Bible is not silent on this matter. “To Adam He said “Because you listened to the voice of your wife and ate of the tree . . .'” (3:17)

Adam was not punished for eating from the tree – for which he repented. Rather, he was punished: “Because you listened to your wife.” By listening to Eve when she offered him the fruit, Adam demonstrated that he did not have the willpower to withstand peer pressure. That is a sin for which repentance is impossible. One who succumbs to peer pressure negates his very existence and therefore has no place in this world. In Samuel I (Ch. 15) we read that King Saul lost his kingdom because he did not destroy Amalek as he was commanded to do. Saul himself defended his actions by saying that he was afraid of the people (who wanted to keep Amalek’s animals).  It was precisely because Saul listened to the people that he was not fit to continue in his position

A related thought: The Mishnah (Sotah 9:15) states that in the last days before the time of Messiah, “The face of the generation will be like a dog’s face.” What does this mean? When a man walks his dog, the dog walks in front as if it is leading its master. However, when the dog comes to a crossroads, it stops and looks back to receive instructions from its master. So, too, in the days before the Messiah, “leaders” will

pretend to walk ahead of their people as if they are leading. In reality, though, all of their decisions will be based on the polls that tell them what their followers want. In this way, the face of the generation – the leaders who walk ahead of a nation as one’s face precedes his body – will be like a dog’s face.

 

The behavior of community and neighbors can be the most powerful influence of people for good.  When the Jubilee year begins in which all servants go free the Torah commands (Vayikra 25:9) “You shall sound the Shofar throughout the land”. The Sefer HaChinuch analyzes the significance of the Shofar. He points out that the matter of sending away one’s servants is very difficult for a slave-owner to carry out. Slave owners sustained a very substantial financial loss.

Now, all at once, they must wave good-bye to the slaves. The Chinuch says that in order to give the people the strength and the encouragement to fulfill this very difficult command, the Torah requires the sounding of the Shofar throughout Eretz Yisrael, to give everyone the sense that they are not alone in making this sacrifice: It is a phenomenon that transpired throughout the land.

When the Shofar sounded throughout Eretz Yisrael, the slave owner recognized “I’m not the only one taking a financial loss; everybody else is doing it. Everybody has to send out their slaves today.”

“Everybody is doing it”. Peer pressure, social pressure is such that it can make a person do something that he does not want to do.  The lesson to be learned is that a person will act better than he would usually act, because of community standards, and on the other hand a person will act worse than he would otherwise act, because “listen, this is what everyone is doing .”

 

“He who keeps company with the wise becomes wise, but he who consorts with dullards comes to grief.”(Proverbs 13:20)

 

A parable: When a man walks into a spice vendor’s shop, even if he sells nothing to the vendor or buys nothing from him, nevertheless, when he leaves, his person and his garments exude a fragrant aroma. And the fragrance will not leave him the entire day. When a man walks into a tanner’s shop, even if he sells him nothing or buys nothing from him, nevertheless, when the man leaves, his person and his garments reek with stench. And the vile odor from his person and his garments will not leave him the entire day. (Midrash Mishlei 13:20)

 

 



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