Wednesday, June 13, 2007

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Woe to His Neighbor

by Reb Gutman Locks of the Old City, Jerusalem, Israel at Mystical Paths

The Baal Shem Tov explained that whatever we see, whatever we judge in others, is really what is within ourselves. If you are a loving person, you are going to see love in almost everything you look at. If you are a negative person, you are going to judge almost all of the actions of the world around you as negative. Whatever is motivating you, you will assume is motivating others.

However, if it is known that the person is truly a sinner who is wantonly doing evil, then listen closely to what Moshe said: “Turn away now from near the tents of these wicked men, and do not touch anything of theirs, lest you perish because of their sins.” [iii]

Why should we die for their sins? What did we do?

In this week’s portion, we see that not only is it dangerous to be with evil people, but it is dangerous even to be near their dwelling places. We are warned not to touch any of their possessions. Even their property is deadly!

Evil spreads just by being close to it. “Woe to the evil person and woe to his neighbor.” [iv]

When we are near people who do evil, soon we come to see that evil to be the norm. Then we, too, slide down to that standard of behavior. Whatever the common behavior is in our community -- be it gossip, extreme immodesty, openly cheating in business, abusing drugs, drunkenness, rudeness, even promiscuity (all of which are openly practiced in many communities today) -- soon we and our children will accept these practices as the norm. Then we, too, will openly do these things without feeling the least sense of inappropriateness.

But why did Moshe warn us not to even touch any of their belongings lest we die? Are the things themselves unclean, like a dead body? No. But if we come to touch an evil person’s belongings, we may very well see that their physical possessions are really quite nice. We may even come to admire these possessions and quickly want those very things for ourselves. And how does one easily acquire such things? By doing what the previous owner did!

Oy to the evil person, and oy to his neighbor.

Conversely, when we are accustomed to being around holy people, their dwelling places and their belongings, the holiness that surrounds them also spreads. Soon we will become accustomed to doing holy things. When the community prays together at regular times, we too will be there. When the community gives charity, surely we will give charity. When they speak lovingly and helpfully to each other, we will learn to speak in loving and helpful terms.

The mind is an amazing tool. Like a knife, it can cut food or it can kill.

[i] Num 16:10
[ii] Sfomo on Num 16:14
[iii] Num 16:26
[iv] Midrash Tanchuma 4

Posted at Mystical Paths. Read it elsewhere? Stop by the source.


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