In this week's Parsha, the Torah describes in great detail the magnificent miracle of the מן which Hashem provided for Klal Yisrael for a period of close to forty years. The Sforno )לשמות ט"ז:ו'( comments that Moshe Rabbeinu asked Hashem to give Bnai Yisrael the מן at a set time each day. While Bnai Yisrael lived in Egypt, they ate like animals, randomly eating whatever became available without a specific schedule. According to the Sforno, this prayer of Moshe Rabbeinu was an attempt to sever the final link between the Jews and the Egyptians.
Rav Henach Leibowitz once made the following observation. Imagine the lofty spiritual level which Klal Yisrael had attained during this era. They had witnessed the ten Makkos in Egypt, the splitting of the Sea, and the decimation of the mighty Egyptian empire at the hand of Hashem. Yet, after experiencing such miraculous events and being uplifted by the Divine presence of Hashem, they were still unable to rid themselves of some of their primitive impulses. Their haphazard eating habits had been engrained within them during their years of servitude in Egypt, and thus became part of their nature. Based upon this insight, we can vividly envision the awesome power that one's environment has on an individual.
Rabbeinu Ovadiah of Bartenura magnifies this message to produce a more startling lesson. Hashem told Avraham "לך לך מארצך וממולדתך ומבית אביך," instructing him to leave his land, his birthplace, and his family (בראשית י"ב:א'). Why was it necessary to add on these seemingly superfluous expressions? Wouldn't it have been sufficient for Hashem to command Avraham to go "to the land that I will show you"? The Bartenura suggests that the Torah wanted to highlight three factors that necessitated Avraham's departure. An individual is normally influenced by his fellow citizens, by his extended family, and by his closest relatives. In order to avoid jeopardizing Avraham's faith, Hashem commanded him to depart from his land (his fellow citizens), his birthplace (his extended family), and his father's house (his closest relatives).
To fully appreciate the implications of this interpretation, it is necessary to examine the life of Avraham Avinu. At a young age, he destroyed his father's idols, introduced monotheism to the world, and was defiant as he was thrown into the fiery furnace. Avraham's entire mission in life was to call out in the name of Hashem, as indicated in several Pesukim. We must remember that these same "fellow citizens", with their ruthless reports to the king about Avraham, had precipitated his harrowing experience in the fiery furnace. Despite his high spiritual level, he was not immune to the environment he lived in.
The Bartenura's commentary gives us a descriptive image of the pervasive influence which society has upon us. The same Avraham who was driven by every fiber in his being to be a positive influence on humanity had to be on guard that the negative values of his countrymen would not affect him in a detrimental fashion. Clearly, the greatest Tzaddik is susceptible to the harmful impact of a corrupt, immoral culture, even in a society that abhors him.
The Rambam (פרק ו' מהלכות דעות הלכה א') writes: "If one lives in times when all the countries of the world are evil, such as in our time...one should isolate himself. If this is not possible, one must leave civilization and live in a desert." The Chazon Ish suggests that in our day and age, we should find refuge from the negative influences in our environment by constantly learning Torah in the Beis Hamidrash. The sanctity of the Beis Hamidrash strengthens our resistance to the spiritual ailments so rampant in our society, and revitalizes our holy Neshamos.
As we live in an open society and are constantly exposed to the total gamut of ideas within Western civilization, we, as Shomrei Torah and Mitzvos, must fully comprehend that every single nuance makes a difference in our spiritual development and in our relationship with our Creator.