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Friday Night Sermon (07/26/2019): "Following the crowd"

There’s a joke about rice, and the punchline is: “A billion Chinese can’t be wrong”. The point is that the majority is always right. In the real world, however, this is not always the case. The corollary to this is that just because everyone says it, doesn’t make it so.

This week’s Torah portion is “Pinchas”. Pinchas was the grandson of Aaron, the first chosen high priest. His father, Elazar, was the successor to Aaron. When Aaron went off to the cave to join Hashem, Elazar accompanied him and Moses. Before Aaron laid down to be taken, Moses helped him disrobe his priestly garments and put them on Elazar as the confirmation that he was now taking his place. However, there was—at this point—no formal line of succession of high priests.

In the last portion, we see how Balak worked to defeat the Israelites on a spiritual level by conscripting Bala’am, the prophet/wizard/sorcerer to curse them. When that didn’t work, they tried to demoralize them by seducing them with the daughters of Moabite and Midianite chieftains. They knew that the Israelites’ strength was Torah, and if they could corrupt them on that level, overtaking them militarily would be easy.

Pinchas was a righteous man and adhered to Torah. He drew his sword and made quick work out of those that succumbed to the immorality. This caused a backlash of some of the clans of those whom Pinchas attacked and they wanted retribution for what they saw as murder. G-d and Moses intervened told the people that Pinchas had acted justly. So justly had Pinchas acted that G-d decided that the lineage of the High Priest would continue with Pinchas when the time came and thus be handed down to his children and children’s children.

Many of us go through life making decisions based on what other people do. They don’t want to feel left out or let alone be the oddball, so they go along. Some younger people get in trouble because of their desire to be accepted. If the crowd does something wrong, like drugs or pilfer, they join in because they want to fit in and be part of the crowd.

People will sometimes laugh at or make fun of those that go their own way. Anyone who doesn’t go along with the crowd or do what everyone else is doing is ostracized and sometimes bullied. Peer pressure at its height.

It’s tough to stand your ground when you know you’re right while everyone around is going alone. It takes a lot of backbone to confront the crowd when you feel they’re in the wrong for fear of getting attacked by those in cahoots. It takes a lot of integrity to stand up for what you believe in.

In fact, the Torah supports this. One of our commandments is not join with others in a false report. Hashem understands that just because everyone else is doing it doesn’t make it right. He knows how hard it is to go against the crowd.

There are times in our lives when we have to face injustice. Even though at times “majority rules”, it doesn’t mean that the majority is right. In fact, many people will use that as an excuse to get their way. Many people don’t confront injustice because they’re afraid of the backlash.

And rightly so. When you have someone who by virtue of a position or strong personality forcing their opinion, and everyone else going along because they just don’t like confrontation, it’s tough to be that lone voice of righteousness. The thought of everyone being against you for standing up for what you believe is right is very intimidating.

Some might contend that if the majority isn’t always right, the minority isn’t either. That’s true. Here’s the difference: someone who is fair and just will not be afraid to hear a dissenting opinion. This is why boards and governments have a plurality, so that there is enough of a diverse input to arrive at a fair conclusion. Anyone who tries to stop that process, by virtue of their response, is wrong because of that alone.

Yes, it takes a lot of strength of character to face a consortium. Phinehas had that and didn’t care about any backlash. As his reward, the High Priesthood was cemented into his family. We may not always get such a reward for doing what’s right, but let’s follow his lead.

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