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Parshas Yisro - Peer Pressure or Peer Support    18 Shvat 5780

02/12/20 18:43:39


Words and expressions of speech can be very delicate and must be used in their proper context in order to convey the message intended. Seemingly simple words, physical expressions and figures of speech can have multiple meanings and thus need to be used with care. In addition, some sayings and expressions have a negative tone or connotation but can have a positive spin as well. I will illustrate with two examples. One of the boys in Shul told me he had recently made the school basketball team and needed to reschedule a learning session with me because he had “practice”. I quipped with him and said, “Why do you need to practice if you made the team? Surely,” I continued, “if you are not good enough and need to practice you would not have made the team.” I continued by saying, “If you are so good, why do you need to practice?” All of this jibing, of course, went right over his head. Similarly, when looking for professional help and you read the bio of the doctor, lawyer, or whomever, and it states that this individual has been in practice for over twenty-five years, you may stop reading and consider, “Do I seriously want to go to someone who, after twenty-five years, is still advertising and still practicing full time? Surely by now they should no longer need to practice!”

The second anecdote is similar yet different. The notion of peer pressure, almost to the degree that a person feels he has no choice but to follow and behave in the same inappropriate way that others are acting gives cause for concern. Everyone wants to belong and to be well-liked. Unfortunately, sometimes a person falls prey to the people they think are their friends, striving to follow in their footsteps in order to gain favor in their eyes. The mere thought of being “left out” is enough pressure from the peers that causes a person to do something even though he or she knows it is wrong. Unfortunately, I think we’ve all had the experience of peer pressure in our lives. Hopefully, it was a meaningless act to follow and did not leave any lifetime scars.

There is, however, another way to view “peer pressure” and that is to feel pressured to do the right thing and follow in the ways of the goody two shoes. I’m referring to the person who chooses to Perform an act or do something good and positive despite the fact you did not want to do it, yet doing it because of positive peer pressure. Peer pressure is common among children who are influenced by their peers. Is peer pressure good or bad? As mentioned above, peer pressure is not always a bad thing. Positive peer pressure can be extremely powerful, used to pressure bullies into acting more sensitively, kindlier toward other kids. If enough kids get together to create positive change, they can pressure each other into doing what's right!

For the pressure to work properly it must be aligned. The secret to breaking the peer pressure lies in balance. This is easily understood through considering the pressure found in tires. To receive the best results from tire wear, the pressure in all of the tires need to be aligned with an equal number of pounds of pressure. If all four tires do not have the same pressure, then they wear differently and break down. Similarly, peer pressure is only effective both in the negative and in the positive sense if all team up to work together. Once one person is not aligned with everyone else, there is a weak link and the pressure is no longer as intense to follow along. As with all behavior we find best practices from the Torah.

In this week’s Sedra Yisro the Torah states in Shmos 18:9 "ויחד יתרו על כל הטובה אשר עשה ה' לישראל אשר הצילו מיד מצרים" : “Jethro expressed joy because of all the good that God had done for Israel, rescuing them from Egypt’s power”. Rashi brings the Midrashic Aggadic interpretation: His flesh became a mass of cuts or prickles; he grieved over the destruction of Egypt. That is what people say: Regarding the proselyte, even until the tenth generation, do not put to shame a gentile (Armean) in his presence. A person is able to change his essence as explained by the sefer HaChinuch in the mitzva of not breaking the bone of the Korban Pesach. As we go through the act of performing a Mitzva, the very act itself transforms a person for the better. Unfortunately, by committing a sin, that person is transformed into a worse human being. And yet, even when a person learns to be better - or worse - the essence and root of whom the person is now becoming continues to influence that individual throughout his or her lifetime. As we see from Yisro, despite becoming as close to the Jewish people as possible with the leader Moshe as his son-in-law, Yisro still bemoaned the fact of Egypt’s destruction.

Reb Yisroel Lipshutz*, author of the Tiferes Yisroel, a commentary on the Mishna at the end of Meseches Kiddushin, shares an explosive understanding of who Moshe Rabbeinu was. When the Jewish people left Mitzrayim, Moshe’s name became famous throughout the world. A certain king sent a sculptor/painter to paint the face of Moshe Rabbeinu. He did so and when he returned to the king, the king turned to the wise men of his court to describe who Moshe was through his picture. The king wanted to know Moshe’s nature and character, and the nature of his great strength. The wise men responded that the person whom they are looking at has many bad qualities and overall is not a good person. They describe Moshe as being two-faced in business, haughty, money hungry and more. Whatever moral deficiencies there could be in a person they claimed Moshe possessed. The king was furious because all he had heard from anyone he asked replied the complete opposite. The king thought the painter/sculptor made a mistake. The two descriptions of Moshe did not agree: the painter claimed the wise men were wrong, and the wise men declared the painter was wrong. The king, therefore, decided to see for himself and made his way to the Jewish camp, going directly to Moshe himself in order to compare the picture to the description given of Moshe. After just a few moments, the kind reckoned that the wise men were the ones who had made the error in judgment regarding who Moshe really was and what he was all about. Moshe stopped the king and explained the following: “Both the painter and your wise men are incredible at what they see. They are both right. If I [Moshe] would have continued my life, following the natural course into which I was born, I would have lived up to the description of your wise men, I would have been a fool , just like a dried-up piece of wood. I am not embarrassed to tell you,” Moshe continued, “all the qualities that your wise men said I was lacking are all part of the natural make-up of who I am. But, with resolve, I strengthened myself to overcome and chase away the evil, to conquer it to the degree that I acquired the opposite character traits, making them second nature to me.

Moshe Rabbeinu, through peer pressure, was able to overcome and literally change who he was. It is without a doubt that Moshe “practiced” consistently to create this change and continuing in his new mode to practice throughout his entire life. Change is difficult, especially when working against peer pressure. If we create a peer support who emulates who and what we strive to become, such positive growth and accomplishment is within our reach. Sometimes a person needs to go against the grain, to consciously refuse to follow the temptation of the bad behavior group. It is this resilience and strength that makes a leader as great as . All of us can strive to develop that positive pressure and practice it so we can demonstrate our leadership in being the role models for our family and Klal Yisroel.

Ah Gut Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky


*Yisrael Lipshutz ישראל ליפשיץ‏; 1782–1860 was a leading 19th century Ashkenazi rabbi, first in Dessau and then in the Jewish Community of Danzig. Rabbi Lipshutz was the author of the commentary “Tiferes Yisrael”, a well-known commentary on the Mishnah. The edition of the Mishnah containing this commentary is often referred to as "Mishnayos Yachin uBoaz". The commentary is divided into two parts, one more general and one more analytical, titled "Yachin" and "Boaz" respectively (after two large pillars in Solomon's Temple, the first Temple in Jerusalem). This is often considered to be one of the clearest and most useful commentaries on the Mishnah.

Sat, May 15 2021 4 Sivan 5781