2016-02-03 / Religion Column

Torah teaches the dangers of following the crowd

RABBI LAWRENCE R. SERNOVITZ
Temple Emanuel

Parashat Mishpatim Ex. 21:1-24:18

After last week’s visit to Mount Sinai where we received the Torah, we now find ourselves this week learning about the “do’s” and “don’ts” which God commands the Israelites to follow. Many of these do’s and don’ts we are familiar with, such as, “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,” and, “you shall not boil a kid in its mother’s milk,” one of the foundational statements about keeping Kosher. However, many of these we may not be as familiar with, such as the prohibition to not, “eat the flesh torn by beasts in the field,” or, “f you lend money to others, do not act to them as a creditor, exact no interest from them.” What a world this would be if we were never charged interest on purchases, including mortgages?

Exodus 23:2 reads, “You should not follow a multitude to do evil,” or in the vernacular, “don’t follow the crowd.”

There is a story told about the famed Chofetz Chaim, who was an esteemed teacher and scholar. He once asked a man he knew why he didn’t lead a more decent life, why he didn’t observe more of the tenets and traditions of our beautiful faith. With a pained look the man replied, “Rabbi, you know quite well that the majority in our community are no better than I. Why do you pick on me and expect me to be different from the rest?” To which the rabbi retorted, “There may be some truth to what you say, but let me ask you a few questions. Tell me, who do you think are in the majority—the unselfish and good-hearted people or the selfish ones?”

The man thought for a while and said, “Truly good-hearted people are few indeed. From my observation and experience I know that the majority is not so good.”

“Tell me then,” the rabbi persisted,

“who do you think are in the majority, those who consider themselves rich or the poor?” The reply was that the poor were in the majority.

“Now, who do you think are in the majority, the healthy and strong who seldom experience aches and pains, or the weak and ailing?” The man said that the weak and ailing were in the majority.

“Consider then the replies you have given to my questions,” the sage urged. “You want to belong to a poor, sick and demoralized majority when you have the choice of joining the blessed company of the healthy and morally potent few!”

Judaism is by nature counter-cultural. Just because society puts its “stamp of approval” on a certain action or value doesn’t make it the morally correct choice. God calls on us to be an, “Or LaGoyim,” a light to nations. It is our calling and obligation to stand up when we see injustices occur and to make a difference. We cannot stand by idly while our neighbor bleeds. The future depends on us to make the right choices. What will you decide? .

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