Beit Midrash

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To dedicate this lesson

Good Individual Instincts Over Bad Societal Habits


Various Rabbis

(condensed from Ein Ayah, Shabbat 1:21)

Gemara: One should always try to live in a city that was settled recently, as due to its newness it has fewer sins. This is learned from the pasuk: "Now this city is close to escape there, and it is small" (Bereishit 19:20). What does it mean that it is close? … Since it was settled more recently, it has fewer sins.

Ein Ayah: Hashem made man straight, and a person’s internal inclinations are always good due to his divinely given soul. However, externally, due to his material side, man tends toward evil. His evil thoughts turn even further toward evil when he is connected to society. Because most people know their counterpart’s external being and not his internal (better) one, society is susceptible to developing habits and practices of sin. This can bring people to sins that would not have happened if man was left to his own personal instincts.
For this reason, a community that is older has more chances of developing a tradition of sinning. In a newer community, the individual is still more likely to behave according to his personal inclinations. The individual can access his own good internal side more easily than an outsider would be able to. However, that same person can be caught up in the stream of jealousy, desire, and honor, which can bring him to evil ways of behavior. So it is better to be in a place where the culture that is based on the individual has not been erased and society is based on human nature along with basic teachings of Torah and ethics. This is better than the excitement of the mass culture, which, because it tends to glorify and accept external life more easily, deteriorates with the shortcomings of society.
It is clear that the above is true until the time when Hashem will "pour" His spirit upon all of the world. At that point, societies, like people, will be elevated to the level for which they were intended. Then the joining together of people will bring only more sanctity and splendor.
The thesis – that social life is more corrupt than individual life as long as material life and ethical failings abound – finds expression in the interrelationships between nations. Even though the average person knows to despise bloodshed in life between individuals, the average nation has not reached the point at which it will assuredly live as a nation without wars and bloodshed against other nations. That will come only at the time about which it was said, "A nation will not wield its sword against another nation" (Yeshaya 2:4), based on the light of knowledge of Hashem that will shine forth from Zion. That is why it is better to live in a city that was settled relatively recently, which has not lost as much of the spiritual sensitivities to justice and proper behavior with which Hashem blessed us.
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