by Rabbi Yaakov Menken
"After HaShem your G-d you will go, Him you shall fear, His Commandments
you will guard, to His voice you will listen, Him you will serve, and to
Him you will cleave." [13:5]
In this week's reading, we find three separate sections which discuss
various influences which prevail upon a person to abandon G-d and His
Mitzvos in order to serve a false god. And as we learn from the verse
quoted above, to follow G-d means to cleave to Him and listen to His voice.
Any ideology which draws us away from Judaism and the performance of
distinctly Jewish Mitzvos -- however positive it might seem -- has all of
the same impact as bowing to a clay idol.
The Avnei Ezel explains that we learn about "real-world" influences from
these three sections, and thus we learn to be on guard against each one.
The first section discusses the "false prophet," who produces signs or
wonders that actually come about as predicted. In our own era, says the
Avnei Ezel, this corresponds to a convincing, charismatic leader. A guru
comes to town, sets up shop, and proceeds to convince you how your life
will be filled with meaning and happiness if you will only give yourself
and all of your money to his church. It sounds ridiculous, but as we all
know cults have proven extremely successful at doing exactly this -- and,
of course, that young Jews without a solid Jewish education have proven
especially susceptible to their influences, promises and sheer charisma.
The second reading discusses persuasion by "friends and family." Again it
is trivial to find a modern expression of the Torah's warning: peer
pressure. Today, we are less susceptible to the influences of our parents
and close relatives (the loss of respect for authority and love of family
being another topic), but the same cannot be said for our closest friends.
If a few of our friends end up in Scientology, G-d forbid, then we're
likely to find ourselves with free gifts -- like books with L. Ron
Hubbard's name on the cover. Again the Torah warns us with clarity of
vision and perception of human nature: be on guard! The same person who
proves resistant to the charismatic leader may be all too dependent upon
his or her closest friends and relations, and may find it extremely
difficult to resist their entreaties.
And the third and final influence discussed by the Torah is the idolatrous
city -- otherwise known as "the street." You go outside, and this is what
"normal" people are doing. This is what newspapers, radio and television,
public officials and general public behavior indicate is normative and
appropriate. You don't do this? You don't believe this? Then you are
discriminatory, you are divisive, you are a "throwback to the Middle Ages."
While the behavior of some of our contemporaries may be a throwback to
Sodom and Gemorrah, leaving the "Middle Ages" two millennia more advanced,
that's not an issue. In recent news, the New Jersey Supreme Court redefined
the Boy Scouts of America, a private membership organization, as a "public
accommodation," no different than a theater or restaurant, simply because
it is large. Even more, the Court claimed that it knew better than the Boy
Scouts themselves how to interpret the Boy Scout Oath! The end result?
According to the Court, a large membership organization cannot set a moral
or faith Code for its members, unless it is clearly defined as a religious
organization per se. Yes, of course I'm opinionated about this and very
non-PC, but I don't think you need to agree with me about the particular
issue in order to acknowledge that the government shouldn't be forcing
upon us its own definition of appropriate friends and associates.
In other news, an Air Force Officer was recently demoted for refusing to
serve a 24 hour shift in isolation, manning a missile silo together with a
female soldier. The officer is a devout Catholic, and his interpretation of
his religious beliefs (quite similar, in fact, to the laws of "yichud" in
Judaism) prevented him from being alone with a woman for an extended period
for fear of what might transpire. For this belief, for his desire to avoid
the sort of circumstances which invite misbehavior, he was punished.
I don't think we need to make a value judgment in order to recognize an
infringement upon the right of individuals to free association and their
religious principles, allegedly protected by the Constitution. This is the
pressure of the street that the Torah is talking about. This is what bears
down upon any person who attempts to follow the path and precepts of the
Torah instead of the whims of modern society.
This is why the Torah reminds us who we are, and what we must do. "After
HaShem your G-d you will go, Him you shall fear, His Commandments you will
guard, to His voice you will listen, Him you will serve, and to Him you
Dedicated l'zecher ul'ilui nishmas (in memory of, and for the benefit of
the soul of) Mr. Ian Ostroff -- Yehudah Yitzchock Aharon ben Simcha