Thursday, September 18, 2008

142 - Re'eh

In this week's parsha, amongst numerous other places, the Torah warns, "Lest you seek out their gods, saying, 'How do these nations serve their gods - and I will do the same myself" (Devarim 12, 30). Why did Hashem feel it imperative to warn the Jewish people not to stray after the gods of the surrounding nations - something the Torah itself describes (Rashi to Devarim 29, 16) as "repulsive as excrement?"

Rav Wolbe answers (Ma'amerei Yemei Ratzon pg.273), with an insight from Rav Yeruchom Levovitz zt"l. He explains that the practice of flattering wicked people stems from an internal drive to look to find favor in everyone's eyes. Even if one were to meet a deranged person, he would hope to make a favorable impression during his encounter. Moreover, if there were somebody - even on the other side of the world - who doesn't view him in a favorable manner, he would endure sleepless nights and go to great lengths to rectify the situation. Therefore, when Bnei Yisroel passed through the idol worshipping nations, they too wished to find favor in the eyes of their neighbors. What better way could there be to find favor in their eyes than to worship their gods?

Rav Wolbe continues, explaining that this is the force that pushes people to run after the newest styles and fads, even if they were concocted by foolish people, so that they not be looked down upon by their colleagues and peers. This is a drive which can potentially be very dangerous. It can cause one who feels that others ridicule his religious observance, to disregard mitzvos or halachos for fear of becoming an object of derision.

Halacha mandates that someone who wishes to convert must be told, "Don't you know that currently Bnei Yisroel are scorned and mocked?" If he answers, "I know and I'm not worthy" he is accepted immediately, for such a person is a righteous convert. He recognizes the penimius of Bnei Yisroel and acknowledges that it is worthwhile to pursue his goal, despite any scorn he might endure.

No one wishes to be perceived as a fool. However, our Sages tell us that it is better for one to be considered a fool in the eyes of the world his entire life, than to be considered a fool for even one moment in the eyes of Hashem! Styles and fashions, newspapers and songs that are antithetical to Torah values, have no place in our homes and offices. The drive to be "one of them" is there, but it could, G-d forbid, bring disaster in its wake. It has the ability to cause one to neglect Torah laws and we must nip it in the bud lest this drive gets out of hand.

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