Peer pressure can lead us to mitzvot but also to evil


Leviticus 25:1-26:2

Jeremiah 32:6-27

On Yom Kippur of the Jubilee year, which occurred every 50 years, the shofar was sounded: "You shall sound the shofar throughout the land" (Leviticus 25:9).

The shofar is sounded every Rosh Hashanah to bring to mind the Akeidah (the near sacrifice of Isaac by Abraham, his father) in order to influence us toward feelings of contrition. What, however, would be the purpose of sounding the shofar in the Jubilee year?

The commentary Sefer Hachinuch suggests that it was sounded on behalf of those people who owned indentured servants. The law required that all Jewish servants had to be set free in the Jubilee year. This was the case no matter when the servitude had begun or what was the particular type of servitude. Naturally, this often necessitated an enormous financial forfeiture and was a very great burden for the owner.

For the owner, having indentured servants was a very favorable situation that tended to keep the overhead low. There were no paid vacations, pensions, salaries or benefits. The owner was obligated only to supply bed and board and to treat his servants humanely. For owners, it was a system one could readily get used to, with assets one would be very reluctant to relinquish.

Nonetheless, in the Jubilee year, the Torah commanded that the shofar be sounded throughout the land as a signal to all owners of indentured servants that the time had come to set them free. The realization that he was not alone, but that thousands of others faced this same difficult challenge, helped to give the owner the strength and fortitude to do what had to be done.

Although even without hearing the shofar, the owner probably knew on an intellectual plane that many others shared his fate, it was difficult to actually feel that commonality on an emotional plane. The sound of the shofar brought to his mind and his heart the understanding that many others were in the same boat. Perhaps it made the difficult sacrifice a bit easier to make. The Sefer Hachinuch stresses that the recognition that "everyone is doing it" provides strong reinforcement in pursuing a difficult course of action.

Peer pressure is enormously powerful. We can see all around us just how powerful a negative force it can be. For example, many children surely know how harmful drugs are, but the "everyone is doing it" concept all too often convinces them to do things they don't really want to do.

That same peer pressure, however, can be a strong influence for the good. For example, many people have found themselves caught up in a public appeal for tzedakah and have given more than they intended because of the pressure of the generosity of others. In this same vein, when everyone around him was freeing his servants, notwithstanding the large financial loss, a person was strengthened in his own determination.

The susceptibility to peer pressure is never outgrown. We must, therefore, try to arrange our lives so that the peer pressure we confront is positive and not negative. Keeping up with the Goldbergs should drive us to do more mitzvot, not to drive more expensive cars. It is imperative that we carefully research and join a community that desires the right things out of life. We should strive to become part of a community that will always pressure us to elevate ourselves and to grow, not financially, but spiritually.

Shabbat shalom.