Mendy Kaminker
Mendy Kaminker

Why it’s dangerous to crowdsource your values

To sweater or not to sweater? That is the question.

Forget about what they taught you in preschool about the four seasons; New Jersey has a fifth season, also known as “fall is here / actually not / this time for real / just kidding! Still summer / no we are serious now / it’s 75 degrees outside!
So how does one decide how to dress in the morning?

A friend of mine came up with a genius idea. He is looking through the window and counting 5 people that walk by. If most of them are dressed warmly, he will follow their example…

Truth to be told, this “let’s-be-like-everyone” attitude is not unique to my friend. Must of us, in one form or another, want to be like – and be liked by – others. It feels uncomfortable to be different and stand out of the crowd.

But following the trends could also lead to undesired results.

When we read in the Torah the story of “the wicked city of Sodom”, the city destroyed by G-d due to the inhuman behavior of its residents, one must wonder: how can an entire city be comprised of mean-spirited people?

I am guessing that Sodom did have some okay residents. But they simply didn’t want to stand out. They preferred to assimilate in the local culture and not attract too much attention.

That was clearly the wrong choice.

A group of Bar Mitzvah boys visited the Rebbe. The Rebbe greeted them warmly and gave them his blessings. Then, he asked if they plan to continue their Jewish education.

“No” replied one honest kid. “None of the other kids in my block are doing it, and I don’t want to be different!”

“What part of the Torah did you recently study?” The Rebbe asked.

– “The story of Noah and the flood.

“Do you know why Noah was saved?” continued the Rebbe. “It was because he didn’t follow the example of the people on his block”.

The Rebbe then turned to another boy and asked him the same question. “We learned about Avraham who opened his doors to guests”.

“Do you know what’s the secret of the Jewish people, and how did we survive all these years? It was because we didn’t follow the other ‘kids on the block'”… said the Rebbe.

So while it’s perfectly fine to decide the all-important sweater question based on popular opinion, may we always remember to cherish our own values given to us by G-d.

After all, values should never be crowd-sourced.

About the Author
Rabbi Mendy Kaminker is the Chabad Rabbi of Hackensack, and an editorial member of Chabad.org.
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