In the previous letter, we discussed how the purifying power of Torah increases our ability to receive the Divine light within our minds, hearts, and bodies. In this letter, we will begin to discuss the importance of living in a community that can help us to maintain this inner purity.
Imagine a person who is careful to only eat pure organic foods, yet who lives in a community which has polluted water and which also has a coal factory which fills the streets with coal dust. One does not have to be a natural healer to realize that this individual may find it hard to maintain all the life-giving benefits of the pure diet.
Imagine a person who strives to study Torah – the Divine wisdom - from pure sources, yet who lives in a community which is immersed in the “pollution” of the decadent culture which affects much of modern life. One does not have to be a spiritual healer to realize that this individual may find it hard to maintain all the life-giving benefits of the pure spiritual diet.
A person with spiritual awareness who lives in a decadent community should therefore make every effort to move to a purifying community. What are some of the differences between a decadent community and a purifying community? The culture and environment of the decadent community are designed to stimulate the hormones, while the culture and environment of the purifying community are designed to stimulate the soul. In the decadent community, people are encouraged to view other human beings as objects for sexual gratification, while in the purifying community, people are encouraged to view other human beings as brothers and sisters who were created in the image of the Pure One. In the decadent community, people feel that the purpose of our lives is to serve ourselves, while in the purifying community, people feel that the purpose of our lives is to serve the creation through consecrating and dedicating all our drives to the fulfillment of the life-giving purpose of our Creator.
A person with spiritual sensitivity should not deceive himself or herself by saying, “I can live in a decadent community, and I will not be affected in any way.” As the great sage, Maimonides, writes in his Mishneh Torah:
It is natural for a human being's thoughts and actions to be patterned after those of his friends and neighbors and for him to conduct himself in the way of his society. A person must therefore attach himself to the righteous and always sit among the wise so that he will learn from their ways. And he must distance himself from the wicked who go in darkness, so that he will not learn from their ways. This is what Solomon said, “One who walks with the wise will grow wise, but the companion of fools will be broken” (Proverbs 13:20).”
If he is in a province whose customs are wicked and whose people do not go in an upright way, then he must go to a place whose people are righteous and who conduct themselves in a good way. If all the provinces that he knows and hears of do not go in a good way, like in our day, or if he is unable to travel to a good place due to marauders or because of sickness, then he should dwell in solitude, as it is written, “Let one sit in solitude and be still” (Lamentations 3:28).
And if the people are so wicked and sinful that they do not allow him to live in their province unless he mingles with them and conducts himself in their wicked manner, then let him flee to the caves, crevices, and wilderness areas rather than conduct himself in the ways of sinners, as it is written (Jeremiah 9:13), “If only someone would give me a traveler's lodge in the wilderness.” (Hilchos Deos 6:1)
The above teachings of Maimonides are relevant to anyone who recognizes that the human being has the potential to become a vessel for the Divine light. And they are especially relevant to the People of the Torah who have the mission to develop a “community” which serves as a vessel for the Divine light. When this mission is completed, the Divine light will spread to all peoples, and the entire world will become a purifying community, for “the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Compassionate One as water covering the sea bed” (Isaiah 11:9).
Light and Shalom,
Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen (See below)
1. I have friends who live in certain cities which are known for their decadence. As of now, they are unable to leave these cities, so they strive to find ways to weaken the effect of the surrounding pollution. For example, they have moved to a spiritual community within their city, where people are striving to study and fulfill the elevating teachings of Torah. These communities also have one or more Torah teachers who are living examples of what they teach. Through their participation in such a community, my friends strengthen their ability to maintain their inner purity despite the pollution of the surrounding society. Some of my friends have a goal to move to the Land of Israel where one can find certain cities, towns, and villages which provide a “healthier” spiritual environment.
2. We live in the age of the internet and other forms of media; thus, each of us must find ways to limit the amount of pollution which we receive from these sources, until the purifying day arrives, when “the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Compassionate One like water covering the seabed.”