When it comes to making the proper choice, don’t let peer pressure get in the way. Just do the right thing!
In this week’s Torah portion, Vayeishev (Gen. 37:1-40:23), we read about the sale of Joseph into slavery. As one might recall, originally the brothers had intended to kill Joseph. But it was Reuben, the eldest brother, who convinced them to throw him into a pit instead, thereby leaving his fate in God’s hands, rather than killing him directly. Reuben’s true intention was to lift Joseph out of the pit to safety when the other brothers wouldn’t be looking.
There is a fascinating comment in the Midrash (Rabbinic literature) about this episode. The Midrash says that if Reuben had known that his intention to save Joseph would be written in the Torah, he would have publicly lifted Joseph on his shoulders and taken him to safety in full view of his brothers!
What? Reuven was interested in fame and publicity?
But it doesn’t stop there.
The Midrash continues and says that Aaron conducted himself in a similar manner. It says that when Moses returned to Egypt in order to redeem the Jewish people and lead them to freedom, Aaron went to greet him and “welcome” him back to Egypt. Here, too, the Midrash says, if Aaron had known that his welcoming back of Moses would have been recorded in the Torah, he would have done so with a marching band, so to speak, and not in a roundabout manner.
And in another such example, the Midrash says that if Boaz had known that his act of kindness in giving food to Ruth, a poor Moabite woman, would be recorded, he would have given her a full course meal!
What’s going on here? How could it be that such righteous people were so concerned with fame and publicity?
The answer is quite simple: Peer pressure. In all three situations, our protagonists were concerned about how others would respond. Reuben, of course, was worried that his brothers would oppose him, to say the least, if he were to rescue Joseph from their plot. In Aaron’s case, Aaron was worried how the people would receive Moses, who seemed to have escaped and enjoyed relative freedom. People would likely resent and oppose his sudden rise to leadership. An elaborate welcome might not have been received so favorably. Finally, regarding Boaz, who knows what kind of rumors would have circulated about Boaz if seen giving a pretty Moabite woman a full course meal.
There is an important lesson here that the Midrash is teaching us, which is that we should not be deterred by public opinion, or even tempted to perform in a much smaller manner, when it comes to doing the right thing. We don’t need to wait for any endorsement or publicity when it comes to doing the right thing. God will ensure you get the publicity you need. Our job is to worry about doing the right thing in the most meticulous and elaborate manner possible, even when it’s not so popular.
By: Rabbi Ari Enkin, Rabbinic Director, United with Israel
To read more insights by Rabbi Ari Enkin on this week’s Torah portion, click on the links below.
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