Headlines »

May 18, 2024 – 10:56 pm | Comments Off on Are We Equal?8 views

Are we truly equal? We all know someone smarter, wiser, more capable, industrious, resourceful, or creative, than us. We also know people less wise, capable, industrious, resourceful, or creative than us. So, are we truly equal?
The answer is yes, but not because we are all equally capable. Our skill sets …

Read the full story »
Parsha Insights

Where Biblical law and Torah tale is brought vividly to life


The Jewish perspective on topical and controversial subjects

Life Cycle

Probing for meaning in our journey and its milestones.

Yearly Cycle

Discover depth and mystique in the annual Jewish festivals

Rabbi’s Desk

Seeking life’s lessons in news items and current events

Home » Lech L'cha

Lech Lecha: The Jewish Flu

Submitted by on October 10, 2010 – 2:59 amNo Comment | 3,350 views

The Shot

Would you knowingly invite a friend to your home if s/he had the flu? As a parent I am always grateful when invited guests beg off because they have the sniffles. I have children at home and would never expose them to a communicable disease; not even the common cold.

We wash our hands, cover our mouths when we sneeze and stay away from the office when we are contagious; all because we know how insidious germs can be. They are infinitesimal and invisible (to the naked eye), but excruciatingly effective. All it takes is a single sneeze and a host of germs parade from the infected mouth to the uninfected surface. It does not take the germ long to find its way from the hand to the mouth and before you know it; you too have the disease.

Still, how many take the flu Shot? In Ontario, studies show that only forty percent of the population takes the flu shot. Now some take it because it’s free and other because they believe in it. Some don’t take it because they don’t believe in it and others refuse it because they can’t be bothered. It is that last category that I want to address.

How can one not be bothered to take the flu shot? If you don’t believe in it or think it injurious, I understand. But how can we be apathetic to the flu? We go to great lengths to avoid being infected; we wash our hands, we wipe our noses, we avoid public sneezing and stay home from school, but here we have a ‘one shot cures most’ solution and we are apathetic?

Sometimes we just don’t think. We are aware of the dangers, but we look the other way.

The Spiritual Germ

There is another kind of germ that communicates disease, only this one is spiritual. This too looks innocent and this too is not easily detected, but it is just as virulent. It is the company we keep.

Maimonides taught that “It is human nature to emulate our peers and friends in thought and behavior. It is therefore fitting that we attach ourselves to the righteous and dwell only among the wise.”  We are influenced by the people around us. We can’t change it; it’s human nature. Yet for purposes of multi-culturalism or worse apathy, we often surround ourselves with people and ideas that are antithetical to our value system.

We know how vulnerable we are to the influence of peer pressure. It does not take much to plant an idea in our minds or unravel the value hierarchy in our hearts. I recently met a young man from an observant background who nearly lost touch with Judaism and it all began with the company he kept. He never thought he might skip a Passover Seder, yet the company he kept did not value Jewish ritual and with time he discarded it too. With time he found himself courting women of all faiths and contemplating intermarriage with equanimity. This would have been unheard of several years earlier, but the values of his friends seeped into his heart and soon became his own.

Like germs, these ideas are often communicated and implanted without intention. No one sets out to deliberately corrupt us, but the human psyche is extremely vulnerable and highly susceptible to influence; we are incredibly easy targets and can be corrupted with hardly any effort at all.


We meticulously oversee our children’s friendships because we know how quickly they absorb unhealthy habits and ideas. We make sure that our little ones don’t befriend children with violent streaks. We dissuade our teenagers from fraternizing with drug abusers.the jewish flu - innestream We know how fickle they are and we protect them from such influence as avidly as from influenza.

Yet many Jewish parents don’t think twice about enrolling their children in non Jewish schools. We convince ourselves that they will be fine on account of the solid basis we provide for them at home. Still, they spend eight hours a day with friends and teachers that don’t share our faith and don’t promote our values. Will we be surprised if our children abandon Israel, forget the holocaust and neglect our traditions? Will we be shocked when they spurn our heritage and intermarry?

Keeping a Jewish home is wonderful, but we don’t allow our children to play with friends that have the flu just because we washed their hands at home. Washing hands at home is important, but having a solid base at home won’t protect our children against direct exposure to the germ. (1)

The influences of such schools are not immediately apparent; it can often take years till this influence is concretized. But the influence of germs is also not immediately visible; it often takes days till it becomes apparent. Why do we take precautions against the germs, but not the schools?

Sometimes we just don’t think. We are aware of the dangers, but we look the other way.


If this is true for children it is also true of adults. We often dismiss this concern by conceitedly assuring ourselves that we, as adults, are immune to such influences. I was raised in a Jewish home and am strong in my faith; my value system is impregnable. Still, even healthy adults, raised in healthy homes, avoid physical contact with influenza patients. Why is that different?

Lot spent decades in the company of Abraham. So long as he was with Abraham he was righteous. He learned much about kindness and hospitality from his famed uncle. When Abraham left Ur for Israel, Lot went with him. Like uncle, like nephew; Lot was widely presumed Abraham’s heir. (2)

Indeed, the Torah tells us that so long as Lot was with Abraham he was wealthy. (3) Presumably this was not only material wealth, sheep, cattle and tents, but also spiritual. He was spiritually prosperous. But he chose to leave Abraham and make his home in Sodom; the most miserly and inhospitable city in the world. How could he do that? Presumably, Lot thought himself invincible; his time with Abraham fortified him against the influence of Sodom. (4) Yet the Torah tells us that when Lot moved to Sodom he joined their evil ways. It did not take long. The holy Lot, nephew of the exalted Abraham, became a wicked man.

You and I are not Lot, but then again, our teachers were not Abraham. If we want to protect ourselves against unholy influences, we must avoid it. Not necessarily like the plague, but at least like the flu. (5)


  1. The same is true of after school Hebrew lessons. They are valuable, but they don’t suffice to protect our children against the subliminal influence of non Jewish schools. In fact, even if we succeed in giving our children a strong background that will in fact protect them in their non Jewish environment, have we equipped them to do the same for their children? What will be of our grandchildren? They too are our responsibility!
  2. That he went with Abraham, see Genesis 12:4. That he was presumed heir see Rashi to 12: 7. That he learned kindness from Abraham see Rashi to 19: 1.
  3. This wealth was not incidental; it was caused by his proximity to Abraham. See Babylonian Talmud, Baba Kama 93a and Chidushei Aggados Maharsha ibid. See also Rashi to Genesis 12: 5.
  4. According to the Midrash Lot went to Sodom because he was drawn to their wicked ways. See Rashi to 12: 10, 11 and 13. In fact, because he was drawn to evil he was described as evil even in Abraham’s company. See Rashi to Genesis 12: 14. Just the same, in his current state of mind he must have considered himself righteous. Settling among wicked people could only have been justified if he conceived himself as immune to their influence. He would be in their presence, but he would not succumb to their influence.
  5. This essay is based on Toras Menachem, 5746, pp. 520 – 524.