One of the greatest challenges to becoming more religiously observant is the social consequences.
Steve and Nicky came to see me to get my advice on dealing with their friends.
“Rabbi, we’re trying so hard to be figure out how to be as accommodating as possible with our friends, but it’s not easy. They want us to eat in their homes; they want us to go out with them to restaurants. What do we do? What do we say?”
Rava taught: A person must drink on Purim until he does not know the difference between ‘cursed be Haman’ and ‘blessed be Mordechai.’
Rabbah and Rabbi Zaira made their Purim feast together and got drunk. Rabbah got up and slaughtered Rabbi Zaira. The next day he prayed and he was revived. The following year, Rabbah invited Rabbi Zaira to join him once again for the Purim feast.
Rabbi Zaira responded, “I don’t think so. Miracles don’t happen every day.”
Rabbi Shlomo Eidels (the Maharsha) explains that when the Talmud says that he slaughtered him, obviously he didn’t literally kill him. It means that he pushed him to drink beyond his limits, placing his life in potential danger.
We’ve all been in situations like this one at some time or another. Our friends are drinking or engaging in other excessive behaviour and we feel compelled to join in, pushing ourselves beyond our limits. You wake up the next morning full of regret, thinking, ‘I can’t believe I succumbed to the peer pressure.’
But peer pressure is real and peer pressure is one of the greatest challenges to our spirituality. Every morning, we beseech the Almighty, “Distance us from bad people, bad friends and bad neighbours.” We are social creatures and often follow the pack, especially if we are seeking acceptance and validity in any particular social group and setting.
We are all well aware of the ill-effects of peer pressure on our teens and warn them not to follow the pack and ‘just say no.’ But we must heed our own advice and do the right thing, despite what everyone else is doing. It’s not easy to ‘just say no’ when everyone else is doing it. Whether it’s eating out or going to the movies on a Friday night, it’s really hard to tell your friends that you’re out. You risk alienating them and you don’t want to be left out in the cold with no friends.
So what do you do? You shower them love. You bend over backwards to demonstrate that you are still the same Steve and Nicky, despite your newfound commitment. Don’t pay any attention to those who are mocking – you don’t need them as friends, anyway. But reach out to the ones who are sincere, try to be as accommodating as you can. And they will respect you. Your true friends won’t pressure you to do anything you don’t want to.
Be strong! If you know you’re doing the right thing, it doesn’t matter what anyone is doing or thinking! Don’t give in to peer pressure! And one day, maybe your friends will be inspired by your leadership!