Positive Vision - Day 37

Our weekly excerpt from the book "Positive Vision"

Day 37 - Environmental Protection - Where You Are Is Who You Are

Every Yovel on Yom Kippur, Beis Din would sound the shofar. This would signify that all slaves should be freed.

What is the connection between the shofar’s blast and the release of the slaves? Chinuch explains that the connection was psychological. It is very difficult to release a slave who may have been with one family for decades. The family may regard the slave almost like a family member. They may have enjoyed the comfort and convenience of his service for as long as they can remember. Now, suddenly, they are instructed to release him. This is no easy thing. So Beis Din sounds the shofar that serves to remind them that everybody is doing it - because it is much easier to do something when everyone else is doing it as well.

Now, while this clearly is human nature, it makes no sense. The fact that everyone is releasing their slaves should not make doing so any easier! But humans are social beings and we are predisposed to do what “everyone else” is doing. In fact, it takes energy and willpower to buck the trend and act independently.

In the words of the Rambam: “It is the nature of man that his opinions and actions are drawn to those of his friends and acquaintances, and he tends to behave like his fellow countrymen.”

This point was driven home several years ago in a quite humorous way with an ingenious experiment named, “Face the Rear.”

A hidden video camera was placed in an elevator. After an unsuspecting person enters, four actors fol- low him in. One by one, each of the actors inexplicably turns around and faces the rear wall of the elevator. The unsuspecting passenger looks baffled, but then, invariably, he conforms to their illogical behavior and also faces the rear of the elevator. Next, all four actors face the side-walls of the elevator and, of course, the unsuspecting victim follows suit. This repeats itself a third and fourth time and each time the “guinea pig” follows the actors.

We laugh as we see these victims manipulated like puppets on invisible strings ... but we really are laughing at ourselves. Our natural tendency is to follow societal norms mindlessly.

It is therefore critical that we choose our society carefully, because our default setting is to “do what everyone else is doing.”

Who, then, will be our “everyone”? Will they be a positive force upon us or otherwise?

The Mishnah in Avos stresses the power of a positive environment: “Make your home a place where wise men gather.” Similarly, Chazal tell us, “Attending to talmidei chachamim is even greater than studying under them.”

The idea behind both these teachings is the same. By regularly inviting talmidei chachamim into our homes, by being in their presence and attending to them, they become part of our “everyone.” We sub- consciously - by osmosis - integrate how they live and adopt their values and sensibilities.

But we cannot deny that our “everyone” will include secular society as well. There is no avoiding it. Every time we take to the street, whenever we go to work, we are exposed to their society. And since our behavior is strongly influenced by the company we keep, the nisyonos we face today, specifically regarding inyanei kedushah, are so much greater than those of yesteryear. Secular society simply has no sense of what kedushah is. It barely rates as a value and certainly not at the standards that we wish to maintain.

But we need not aggravate the problem. If we wish to grow in kedushah and shmiras einayim we must surround ourselves with an environment of friends and acquaintances who maintain our standards of kedushah. And in any case, where we can lock secular society out, we certainly must.