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External Influence, Inner Wisdom

Lech Lecha (Genesis 12-17 )

by Rabbi Menachem Weiman

What leads one person to imitate others, while another person is a fount of originality?

We all tend to be influenced by the society around us. Our attitudes, style of dress, and sense of values get molded and shaped by people we associate with. It's only natural.

It takes a special ability to fend off society's influence. That ability comes from within. And it's based on a burning desire for truth, the strength to oppose falsehood wherever it lurks.

Every soul has this desire; it's part of who we are. It's our spiritual technology. But it gets covered over when we seek approval, when we don't want to stick out, when we don't want to be ridiculed. These fears are part of the "lower self," and they plague us in many ways, all day long.

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God spoke to Adam, who passed on a Divine message to his children. This tradition existed down to Noah, his son, Shem, and his great-grandson, Ever. But Abraham did not receive that tradition. He grew up and lived with idolators. And then one day, he looked out into the world, saw the design in nature, and concluded there must be an Infinite Creator.

After developing a philosophy of life based on Monotheism, Abraham then came upon the school of Shem and Ever, who helped further his religious ideals.

So Abraham's legacy to us is one of independence of thought. He didn't accept what his society was offering.

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A great teacher I had the privilege of being near, Rabbi Yehuda Davis z"l, once looked at his students and said, "Some of you are smarter than me. Some of you have a better memory. You know the one thing that's different about me? I have a burning desire for truth."

The sages say that because Abraham had a burning desire for truth, God opened him up like a wellspring of wisdom. In other words, somewhere inside us is a barometer of truth and a source of wisdom. The soul is your source of unbounded wisdom.

One of the Talmudic sages, Rabbi Eliezer, was already a young man but he had never been able to learn. He had such a strong desire for truth that he repeatedly broke down in tears while praying for wisdom. Because of his strong desire, God opened up a path for him to eventually become a great sage. A well-known phrase expresses this well: "Nothing can stand in the way of desire."

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A Talmudic tradition (Avot 6:6) says there are 48 facets of the human experience that enable us to access a higher reality. One of those is called, "The one who knows his place." In order to prevent societal manipulation, you need to know who you are and what you stand for. You have to have a spiritual backbone.

Who are you? Who is around you? What is your job, your purpose in life? What unique talents do you have, and how does this provide you with both opportunities and responsibilities?

Every situation needs to be treated differently. When is it the time to negotiate and when is the time to fight? Wouldn't life be easier if we could just be a hammer and treat everything as a nail? When we have a strong inner barometer, we are able to make these decisions more efficiently.

You need to be able to approach life from the inside out, not react to life from the outside in.

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One of God's nicknames is the Place; the injunction to "know your place" also refers to God. We need to discover the reality of living with the Infinite. He is always with us; we just don't always recognize it.

If we are living with the presence of the Almighty, then we have a moral compass built in. God isn't influenced by society. It doesn't matter how many millions of people say your viewpoint is wrong. If you are one with God, their opinion will not affect you. The consciousness of being one with God is like a blowtorch for anything that may lead a person astray.

When you reach a level of being impervious to praise or insult, when you are unaffected by your society, yet able to learn from its positive aspects, you will be God-like. And that is the greatest expression of individuality and independence.

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Spiritual Exercise:

Over the next week, notice and take advantage of an opportunity to disagree with society.

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