“Do not imitate the behavior of the Egyptians amongst who you lived and do not behave in the same way as the Canaanites do, in whose land you are going to live” (18.3).
For more than three thousand years this has been the major challenge that has faced the Jewish people. However, many of us have been killed by those who have tried to destroy us, by far greater is the number who have disappeared because they preferred to fit in and assimilate into other cultures. Once it was Egyptian and Canaanite, then Greece and Rome, followed by Christianity and Islam and now it is Capitalism or Socialism.
Why is this warning about following others instead of standing up for one’s own, mentioned as an introduction to the list of people we cannot have sex with? The fact is that sex is probably the most powerful motive for so much of human behavior. Indeed, Balaam in the Bible showed how much of a threat it was to the Israelites. They were constantly being seduced by pagan religions whose rituals revolved around giving one’s body to their gods through sexual orgies. It is so powerful an attraction, it dominates our lives at every level, from advertising cars to popular music to pornography. It is everywhere exercising its powerful magnetism. No one is immune. It overpowers logic and the capacity of the brain to think rationally. In our society, it is primarily the attraction of easy sexuality that seduces young people away from tradition. And yet it sex is also the greatest pleasure, the greatest gift we have because it alone enables us to reproduce and procreate. Which is why the Talmud says it is also so good!
We humans tend to be so easily influenced. How else does one explain the powerful attraction of Paganism then and Materialism now that both scream at us “Do it, enjoy yourselves and to hell with the consequences”? We all know that choosing a partner just because of physical attraction is the craziest of reasons and yet it dominates most of our choices. This can’t make sense especially when a surgeon’s knife can transform almost anybody. Yet we fall for it all the time.
What the Torah said so many millennia ago still resonates. We are too easily seduced! The Torah introduces these laws by saying that “You should live by them.”