families of the children of Korach would encamp on the
side of the Tabernacle, to the south.” — Bamidbar
Zevulun became the teachers and supporters of Torah
Rashi quotes the Medrash, “Yissochor
and Zevulun became great in Torah because their tents
were placed next to the tents of Moshe, Aharon, and his
sons. The 250 individuals who joined Korach in his
rebellion against HASHEM, on the other hand, did so
because their tents were located next to Korach’s.” From
here Chazal learn, “Praise be a tzaddik, and
praise be his neighbors. Woe to the rasha, and
woe to his neighbors.”
The Medrash seems to attribute both
the great success of Yissochor and Zevulun as well as
the utter destruction of Korach’s congregation to the
influence of neighbors. This seems to imply that the
pivot point for both groups was who they associated
What makes this statement startling
is the distance between the fate of each group.
Throughout the generations, the role of Torah teachers
was given to Yissochor, and the role of supporting Torah
went to Zevulun. In this way, they reached the heights
of greatness. On the flip side, the people who followed
Korach in rebellion against HASHEM are depicted as still
burning in Gehinom to this day. Yet this Medrash
seems to be saying that the followers of Yissochor,
Zevulun, and Korach all began at the same starting
point. The difference was where they dwelled.
How could something
so trivial make such a difference?
seems difficult to understand how such a stark
difference in results could be caused simply by living
in close proximity to one person. This question becomes
compounded when we take into account the circumstances
and the times.
These events were taking place during the forty years in
Rather than bringing the Jewish people directly to
HASHEM cloistered them within the confines of the Clouds
of Glory. Locking them away from the world allowed them
to become spiritual giants. All of their physical needs
were taken care of: they ate the
delivered to the doors of their tents; they drank water
their clothes didn’t tatter; and their shoes didn’t wear
out. They experienced countless overt miracles.
They had all
received the Torah
Furthermore, all of the individuals involved had not
long before stood at the foot of Har Sinai. When HASHEM
proclaimed for the entire world to hear, “I am HASHEM
your G-d,” every man woman and child standing there
reached a level of seeing HASHEM greater than a
They experienced HASHEM’s presence first-hand.
With that experience came a clear
understanding of the purpose of life. The Jews at Sinai
fully recognized that we are put on the planet for a few
short years with a specific mission to grow, to
accomplish, and to shape ourselves into what we will be
for eternity. They knew that whatever state of
perfection we reach here, we will enjoy forever.
How then is it possible that
something as seemingly inconsequential as living next to
a tzaddik or a rasha could spell ruination
or great success?
The human: a social
The answer to this question seems to
be that we humans are social beings, and because of
this, we are exquisitely sensitive to influence from
others. One of our needs is to belong. We need
friendships, we crave associations, and we hunger for a
sense of community. When we fit into a group that we
feel a part of, we identify with
that group. This is our chevra, our circle of
friends, and it becomes almost an extension of us. Our
circle of friends affects our value systems, the way we
view ourselves, and our roles in all that we do. But
it’s a double-edged sword. It can be one of the greatest
aids to a person’s spiritual growth or the greatest
liability . . .
Because the 250 men who rebelled
lived in Korach’s vicinity, this became their community,
their peer group. As such, it created their social
environment. Korach yielded great social equity in that
group, and he led the march to its abysmal failure. But
those who lived in the immediate proximity of Moshe and
Aharon were affected by a different force. The presence
of Moshe Rabbeinu shaped the social fabric of that
group. Its norms and ideals were shaped by a Torah
giant. The social atmosphere had such an effect that
Yissochor and Zevulun were changed for generations.
Chazal are teaching us that the great
heights one group reached and the low depths to which
the other sank were due to one factor — peer pressure.
This is an eye-opening revelation as to the power of
The average person
is smarter than the average person
One of the quirks of human nature is
that the average person assumes that he is smarter than
the average person. Often times, when we are confronted
by the foibles of human nature, we exclaim, “How strange
is the human!” But we forget to take that next critical
step — remembering that “I too am a human.”
When it comes to issues like the
influence of friends, we may agree that it is
significant in the lives of some, and certainly in the
lives of teenagers. However, once we are fully-formed
adults with a mature understanding of life and the
world, we think these concepts no longer apply to us.
What we see from this Chazal is a
very different perspective. The 250 men who joined
Korach were men of greatness. They were distinct and
illustrious, singled out by name in the beginning of
Bamidbar, yet they were influenced to rebel against
HASHEM. The tribes of Yissochor and Zevulun included
many fully mature adults, and they became great Torah
leaders, all because of the influence of others.
This is a powerful insight into the
effect of the friends that we keep and their impact upon
who we wish to become.
Why should something
as trivial as living next door to someone have
such a great influence?
I hope you find it meaningful,