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In the fifth chapter of the Mesillas Yesharim, the holy Ramchal ztvk”l (Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto) discusses three deterrents to Cautiousness. The third one is evil companionship. He tells us that although one might already be convinced that he wants to do what is right and avoid that which is sinful, still, he will weaken or even commit transgressions only in order not to be mocked and ridiculed by his friends. No one wants to be in a situation within which he is taunted as being “the frumie” (the religious one) amongst the group. Just that fear alone is enough to force him to cast aside his convictions and just go along with the crowd.
However, a great rabbi used to say that a dead fish floats along with the tide; a live one can swim against it. But it is extremely difficult, indeed.
In this week’s parashah we learn of the tremendous effort extended to protect Kalev and Yehoshua from being dragged along with the other ten spies into the abyss. Kalev went to Chevron, to the Me’aras Hamachpelah (the Cave of the Patriarchs) and prayed fervently, “My Ancestors, please entreat mercy for me (from Hashem) that I be saved from the plot of the Spies.” Yehoshua was privileged that his rebby, Moshe, prayed for him and changed his name from Hoshea to Yehoshua, indicating his supplication that “Hashem save you from the plot of the Spies.” (This, incidentally, is one of the advantages of having a rebby who, among other things, does all that he can to prevent his student from sin, including praying for him. Reb Ya’akov Kaminetsky zt”l, used to tell that the Alter of Slabodka would fast and even visit graves of Tzaddikim to pray that his students be successful.)
But it seems from this that Kalev and Yehoshua knew from the onset that the Spies had an evil scheme. Rashi (Bemidbar 13:26) indeed brings the words of the Sages that, “Just as their coming to Moshe was with an evil plan, so, too, was their going on the journey with an evil plan” (i.e. that from the commencement they had already resolved to bring back an evil report). If so, what was the great danger there? We can understand one falling into an unexpected trap. But if Kalev and Yehoshua knew from the start whom they were dealing with and what their evil intention was, why did they need such powerful prayers to protect them?
The answer lies in the words of the Ramchal we just saw. No matter how clear ones convictions may be, if he finds himself among evil companionship (hachevra hara’ah) he is in great danger of being shlepped along; even against his will.
Therefore, we should do all that we can to avoid evil companionship and never rely on our convictions to protect us. We should always remember the opening words of King Dovid in Tehillim (1:1), “Happy is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scorners.” The Sages taught that this is a process which works with a domino effect; one evil thing leading to another: first he walks with them, then he stands with them and, eventually, he even sits with them. Therefore, a person who wants to serve Hashem properly should avoid evil companionship like the Plague and run away from bad influences like from a raging fire.
But if, in spite of his caution, he finds himself in a bad group, then he should do all that he can, and pray for Divine assistance, to withstand the danger of being dragged along with them in the wrong direction. One of the things which may help him in this extremely difficult battle is remembering the reward Yehoshua and Kalev received.
“Those men that brought up the evil report upon the land, died by the plague before Hashem. But Yehoshua the son of Nun, and Kalev the son of Yephuneh, who were of the men who went to spy the land, lived still” (Ibid. 14:37-38). Rashi brings the words of the Sages, “The phrase (“lived still”) teaches that they received the portion of the Spies in the Land and thus remained alive; so to speak, in their stead (i.e. the text does not intend to state that they alone of all those men remained alive, but that they lived "from" the other men, i.e. from their portion in the Land).
The Rabbis taught (in Chagigah 15a) that everyone has prepared for him a place in Gan Eden and a place in Gehinom. He who is righteous inherits his place and the place of the wicked in Gan Eden, while the wicked inherit their place and the place of the righteous in Gehinom.
When one is confronted with the trial of standing up against evil companions, he should strengthen himself with the knowledge that if he passes this test, not only will he benefit the reward prepared for him; he will also receive the portion prepared for all of them in this group. This, hopefully, will grant him the wisdom and strength to do what is right.
May Hashem protect us from trials and tests; and may He help us pass, with flying colors, those which we must tackle, Amen.
Shema Yisrael Torah Network