In this week's Torah portion, Korach, the Levite, leads a wrongful rebellion against Moses and Aaron. Most of the people who joined up with Korach were from the tribe of Reuben. They were the neighbors who camped next to Korach as the Jews traveled through the desert. Because they lived near Korach, they were influenced by him. The Talmud tells us, "Woe to the evildoer and woe to his neighbor." This means that we should try to stay close to, and choose as our friends, people who behave the right way. We should stay farther away from those who don't.
In our story, two friends learn about how the choice they make can affect them...
"NO MAN IS AN ISLAND"
Summer at Camp Chattanooga was a special experience. The place had super sports facilities. There were fun activities. And delicious food was served.
But the highlight of the summer was the canoe trip to Silver Island.
This summer two separate groups were going.
It turned out that one group, led by Dov, was made up mostly of serious, well-behaved boys. The other group that Yirmy led, consisted of boys who were known to act more wild, and not behave as they should.
Sammy and his friend, Yitz, were trying to decide which group to join. "I think we should go with Dov's group," declared Sammy. "Those guys play by the rules," he added.
Yitz objected. "But why not go with Yirmy's group?" he said while swatting a mosquito that was biting his leg. "We'll have a good time with them. And even if they don't behave so well, just because we go with them doesn't mean we have to act like them!"
Sammy frowned. "You can go if you want," he said. "But I'm sticking with Dov."
The boys went their separate ways.
Yitz went with Yirmy's group.
At first, he was having fun. "This is great!" he thought.
All of a sudden, Yitz heard a loud splash followed by wild laughter. Quickly, he turned around and saw that one of the boys had dived out of his canoe into the middle of the lake!
"Wait a minute," thought Yitz. "The counselor told us not to do that. He said it was dangerous." But soon one splash followed another, until all the boys in the group, except Yitz, had jumped out of their canoes.
Yitz felt left out. At first, he stayed put. But then, when he saw that everyone else seemed to be having fun, he also jumped out of his canoe.
Just then, the counselor pulled up in his rowboat and started yelling at everyone for what they had done. The counselor turned to Yitz and said, "I'm surprised to see you acting this way!" Yitz put his head down in shame.
After they got back from the canoe trip, the two friends -- Yitz and Sammy -- saw each other in the dining hall.
"How was your trip?" asked Yitz.
"Great!" said Sammy. "Everyone got along and I also learned a lot from those guys. How was your trip?"
Yitz's face darkened. Finally he said, "Sammy, you were right. At first I was having a great time. The water was so beautiful. But when I saw how the other guys were behaving so wildly, I started joining in, and I said and did things I really shouldn't have. I don't know what happened. I guess I just got pulled in by what everyone else was doing." Yitz paused, looked his friend and said, "I'm glad the trip is over. Next time, Sammy, I'm canoeing with you!"
Q. How did Yitz feel when the counselor spoke to him?
A. He felt embarrassed because he realized that he really hadn't behaved properly.
Q. Why didn't Yitz behave properly?
A. Since everyone was behaving wildly, Yitz didn't want to feel left out and went along with the crowd.
Q. If Yitz knew it was wrong to jump out of the canoe, why did he do it?
A. Because being part of the crowd was more important to him that doing what was right. People tend to act like most of those people around them. That is called peer pressure.
Q. Do you think that Yitz would have jumped out of his canoe if he had gone with Dov's group instead? Why?
A. Since the rest of the boys in that group wouldn't be acting that way, Yitz wouldn't have felt tempted to misbehave.
Q. Can you think of an example when you were tempted to do something you knew you shouldn't be doing, because of the pressure of others around you?
Ages 10 and Up
What does it mean that a person is a "product of his environment"?
A. It means that a person's "environment" -- i.e. who and what surrounds him -- can really affect his personality and the way he acts.
Q. Do you agree?
Q. Should a person be held responsible for his actions if he is in a bad environment and acts like the people around him?
A. Yes. Since we still have free choice not to behave like those around us. Perhaps the best choice is for a person to put himself in a better environment if he's able to do so. This would make it much easier to behave the right way.