Yayera: Tell a Friend!

The supermarket chain Alpha Beta used to end its TV and radio commercials with the tagline “Tell a Friend.”  Its marketing department knew that, both for good and ill, our friends greatly influence us.   

I won’t claim that Alpha Beta learned this lesson from Torah -- but our Sages certainly found it there.  Judaism is very concerned with how our acquaintances influence us.  This week’s Torah portion – Vayera – provides two examples.

The first concerns Lot and his daughters.  Lot lived many years near his uncle, Abraham, but then moved to Sodom – a city regarded by Torah as epitomizing evil.  

When angels visited him, a crowd demanded that Lot surrender them for their sexual pleasure.  Shockingly, he offered the mob his daughters instead! Our sages speculated that this action reflected his community’s bad influence upon him.  While he never became as evil as Sodom’s permanent residents, evidently some of their baseness rubbed off on him. [“Stay away from a bad neighbor.” says Pirkei Avot– Ethics of the Fathers 1:7.] 

Later in the Torah portion, King Abimelech intends to take Sarah as his wife, after Abraham tells him that she is his sister.  G-d appears in a dream and tells Abimelech that he is to die for choosing a married woman.  When Abimelech protests his innocence, G-d recommends that Abraham pray on his behalf.  From this, our sages inferred that even G-d urges us to associate with the righteous.  Not just because they may influence G-d in our favor, but because developing relationships with righteous people gives us opportunities to learn how to improve our own behavior, and thus get closer to G-d.

I think that we can greatly expand on this lesson.  Our choice of acquaintances is very important to shaping our character, but so is the constant succession of other choices we make. Which TV shows will we watch? Which internet sites will we visit?  Which books will we read?  Such decisions – often made for convenience, with little thought, or on the spur of the moment -- establish and reinforce behaviors, opinions, and patterns of thinking. And since we often involve our friends with our choices, either by actually sharing our experiences or by commenting  upon them later, we influence their decisions, too.  

This Shabbat and every day from now on, let’s try to give more thought to our choices of acquaintances and of our leisure time activities.  They will influence both us and those about whom we care most.  It’s up to us to make choices that strengthen our character and values.    

Shabbat shalom – and thank you for your choice to spend a few minutes with this D’var Torah!

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A bird that you set free may be caught again, but a word that escapes your lips will not return.
Jewish Proverb