Korach had many followers, among them heads of the tribes, but most of his supporters came from the tribe of Reuben. Why was Reuben lured into Korach's movement more than any of the other tribes?
Korach had many followers, among them heads of the tribes, but most of his supporters came from the tribe of Reuben. Why was Reuben lured into Korach's movement more than any of the other tribes? Rashi, the fundamental Torah commentator, explains this phenomenon with the Talmudic maxim, "Woe is to the wicked, woe is to his neighbor." Since the tribe of Reuben camped beside Korach's Levite family of Kehat, the Reubenites were greatly influenced by Korach.
Because of their close contact with Korach, the Reubenites went wrong. However, by the same token, the Talmud states that close contact with a great person can enrich a person's life: "Good is to the righteous, good is to his neighbor." The Rambam (Maimonides) writes in his classic code of Jewish law, "It is the nature of a person to be pulled in his views and actions after his loved ones and friends, and to act like the custom of the people of his land. Therefore, a person must attach himself to the righteous and sit with the wise always, so that he will learn from their ways. He should distance himself from the wicked who walk in the dark so that he will not learn from their ways" (Hilchot De'ot 6:1-2).
In discussing the locations of the cities of refuge which were established upon the Jewish people's arrival in the land of Israel, the Talmud (Tractate Makkot 9b) comments that although three cities sufficed for the 9 and a half tribes in Israel proper, the same number of cities was needed for the 2 and a half tribes on the other side of the Jordan River, for there were many murderers there. However, this explanation is difficult. The cities of refuge were only for accidental killings, so why should a high homicide rate require more cities if someone who murders intentionally doesn't flee to them anyway? The Maharal of Prague, one of the great philosophers and Torah scholars of the 16th century, explains that people who live in a place where there are many murders become desensitized and lose sight of the importance of human life. When this happens, they become less concerned about preserving human life and eventually, carelessly, destroy it. Therefore, the prevalence of deliberate homicides led also to the increase in unintentional killings.
No matter how much we think that we can resist influence from our peers and surroundings, we cannot remain unaffected. Good fences do not keep out bad neighbors. It is up to us to choose the people with which we associate. If we surround and associate ourselves with people striving to come closer to Hashem, we ourselves will grow tremendously. Every morning in our prayers we ask Hashem to rescue us from an evil companion and an evil neighbor. With our own efforts and Hashem's help, we can reach great heights by learning from others.
Avi Lowenstein, a native Atlantan, is studying at the Yeshiva Toras Moshe in Jerusalem.
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