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A TALE OF TWO TRIBES

by Elly Berlin    
Torah from Dixie Staff Writer    

Somewhere in Arizona, near the border with Mexico, there is a group of Indians known as the Pima Indians. Throughout history, the Pima Indians represented one of the strongest tribes of Native Americans.

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Somewhere in Arizona, near the border with Mexico, there is a group of Indians known as the Pima Indians. Throughout history, the Pima Indians represented one of the strongest tribes of Native Americans. They always survived famines while the other tribes died. Today, however, the Pimans are a sick and unhealthy bunch. Many of them have become sedentary, obese, alcoholics, and they tend to die young from heart disease or diabetes. What could have possibly happened to make the strongest and healthiest tribe of Indians so weak and diseased?

This weekís Torah portion starts with Hashemís speaking to Abraham saying, "Go, for yourself, from your land and from your birthplace and from your fatherís house. . ." (Genesis 12:1). The Bartenura, a classic commentator, points out that the Torah does not use superfluous words and, as such, asks why Hashem specifies that Abraham should leave "his land," "his birthplace," and "his fatherís house"? Arenít they all pretty much the same?

The Bartenura answers that the Torah is teaching us that Abraham needed to leave in order to get away from three specific influences that had the potential to jeopardize his faith: his countrymen, his relatives, and his immediate family. There is a monumental lesson for us to learn here. Abraham, the father of monotheism, is the classic model of righteousness, faith, and conviction. Why was Hashem worried that the strongest spiritual figure in the history of the world might become negatively influenced by society? Perhaps it is the same way the strongest and healthiest tribe of Indians was influenced by American settlers to eat, drink, and be merry to the point of serious physical sickness.

Hashem knew that as great as Abraham was, he was still human, and as such he was susceptible to the negative influences of society. Now think about us, thousands of years removed from the greatness of Abraham. We are even more susceptible to the negative spiritual influences of the society around us today and have to work even harder to recognize their potential harm, and avoid falling into their alluring trap.

The social order, which we live in today, gnaws at our faith. Every day we passively allow the morals and values of the society around us to trickle into our hearts. Sometimes we find ourselves making compromises that are physically enjoyable for the moment, but that harm us spiritually (and often physically) in the long run. Television, movies, Internet, work environment, school environment -- they all have the potential to harm our souls.

Genetically, the Pima Indians are gifted with a slow metabolism. They do not need as much food as other people do because they are very energy efficient. This is how they survived during long and difficult famines. During times of plenty they got lots of exercise and they ate healthy foods. During the starvation periods they had plenty of healthy fat stored up so they did not die. Over time, they learned poor habits from the American lifestyle. They stopped exercising and they ate too much. Their energy efficient bodies saved all this excess food as fat and they ended up with heart disease or diabetes.

Spiritually, the same phenomenon can happen to us. We are gifted to have an oral tradition and a written law which together contain the instructions for how to keep ourselves holy. Sadly, the attractions of our society pull us away from our heritage and strip us of our ethic. If we do not fight the constant battle then we will end up a people who are spiritually unhealthy -- void of Torah and mitzvot. May Hashem grant us the strength to fight the multitude of negative influences and leave them behind as Abraham did, so that we may fill our minds and hearts with Torah and restore our spiritual health.

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Elly Berlin is studying to be a Doctor of Chiropractic at Life University in Atlanta.

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