There is no doubt that we are all products of our environment. But while last week, my reference to the environment was in ecological terms, this time I’d like us to consider “the ‘hood”–where we grew up, and where we live now.
In Parshat Bemidbar, we read of the Israelite’s housing arrangements. The tribes will have to coexist on the journey toward the Promised Land, both while settled and when in transit, and here the Torah lays out who is to march where. The Mishkan, the dismantled sanctuary, is at the epicenter, with the twelve tribes distributed in all four directions. The rabbis noticed something about those tribal groupings. This midrash spells it out:
“How were the tribes of Israel situated (literally, immersed) in the Wilderness? Moshe, along with Aharon and his sons, encamped in the east, and next to them were Yehudah, Yissakhar and Zevulun. On this basis they said: ‘How fortunate is the righteous, and how fortunate are his neighbors!’ This refers to these three tribes, who were adjacent to Moshe and Aharon, and became great in Torah.
“On the south side, the sons of Korah were encamped, and adjacent to them were Reuven, Shimon and Gad. On this basis they said: ‘Woe to the wicked, and woe to his neighbors! ‘This refers to these three tribes, who were neighbors of Korah and his band in the south, and were lost along with him in his rebellion” (Tanhuma Yashan 13)
The rabbis here tell us that the neighbors we choose (or, in this case, to whom we are assigned) will go a long way in dictating our character development and behavior. We become like those among whom we live, because they do more than merely take up space around us. They influence the environment around them. If we attach ourselves to righteous people, not only where we congregate but even where we live, such righteousness is catchy. But bad neighbors breed bad behavior, and we must distance ourselves from their contagion.
By the way, I happen to think that Hollis Hills (and its environs) is a wonderful neighborhood, and I like to think that the spirit is catchy! That’s why I’m proud that so many of our members are active in the leadership of the Hollis Hills Civic Association. May we continue to share the greatness of this community for the benefit of all who encamp here.