The Neighborhood

The attack by the nation of Amalek took place within a few days of the Exodus from Egypt and the Crossing of the Sea. One would think that no one would have the nerve to ambush a nation who so clearly was Hashem’s favorite and the beneficiary of His Divine Providence. The Midrash compares Amalek to a man who jumped into a boiling bathtub that all others were afraid to enter for fear of being scalded by the hot water. After he climbed out of the tub — although he was burned — others saw the waters as “cooled off” and followed suit. After Amalek’s attack, other nations also attempted to harm the Jews.

The question is obvious. If this rebellious soul suffered the burns that the onlookers feared, why did the spectators become more confident and brazen? Shouldn’t the defeat of Amalek have discouraged the other nations?

Siftei Chachamim explains a deep psychological principle. Actions that are morally offensive are subconsciously removed from the realm of possibility. This inner alarm system protects an individual from spiritually harmful acts. When one sees another break the fence, the psychological barrier is broken. The bath — although still boiling — has cooled off in the onlooker’s perspective.

When our people left Egypt and crossed the Sea, “the nations heard and trembled” (Shemot 15:14). No country would dare attack the seemingly invincible Jews. Amalek disregarded the warning signs and paid the price of military defeat. The damage, however, was done. The unthinkable was now possible.

We live in a society where the unthinkable is now commonplace. The news is filled with acts of vulgarity and shameless behavior that our Holy Torah classifies as abominations. Unfortunately, we are unwilling onlookers and cannot escape the effects of all that we see and hear. The images and sounds that bombard us daily are breaking the fences that protect us from perversion and sin. Living in a bad “neighborhood” affects all the residents, good and bad alike. Once upon a time, a person had control over what he saw and what he heard to a much greater degree than is possible in today’s wireless world. Invasive messages break through all barriers and dull the sensitivity of even the most careful individuals.

In these days of Elul we have an opportunity for soul-searching and rebuilding our moral barriers so that our holy souls can remain clean and pure, safe from the contamination of contemporary society. Shutting out the all-pervasive impurities requires great effort and resolve. A study of our books of ethics and an audit of our personal morality books will help us survive this technological onslaught and bring us to successful judgment on Rosh Hashanah. This two-pronged approach — staying away from evil and getting involved in good — will merit for a person siyatta diShmaya, supernatural assistance from Heaven, to achieve that which is not humanly possible. May we all be successful in our efforts to return to the service of Hashem.

Shabbat shalom.