Among the topics addressed in Parashat Re’ei is the case of a meisit – a person who attempts to lure others to worship idols, which the Torah considers a capital offense, punishable by execution. A number of writers understood this law as symbolic of the “meisit” within each and every one of us, our negative instincts and impulses that often “lure” us to sin. The Torah’s exceedingly harsh treatment of the meisit expresses the vigilance and determination with which we must respond to our inner “meisit.”
Sefat Emet explains in this vein the specific requirement that “yadekha tiheyeh bo ba-rishona” – that the one whom the meisit sought to lure should begin the execution process, and the others should then follow (13:10). Symbolically, Sefat Emet writes, this represents the fact that when we successfully resist the efforts of our inner meisit, and “fight back” against its attempts to lead us astray, we influence and inspire others to do the same. “Yadekha tiheyeh bo ba-rishona” – we must take the lead in opposing our negative tendencies and instincts – and then “yad kol ha-am ba-acharona” – we will serve as an example for other people to follow.
Sefat Emet here teaches that whether or not we realize it, our actions and decisions have an effect on other people. When we live with resolve and determination, making the right choices even when we are tempted not to, we not only avoid wrongdoing, but also have a positive impact upon our surroundings, inspiring people through our example of steadfast commitment to our principles. By contrast, if we are weak and undisciplined, easily distracted and attracted by the countless lures and temptations that we face each day, we inadvertently diminish from the strength and resolve of our peers. We bear responsibility for our conduct not only because of the intrinsic value of our good deeds and intrinsic harm of our sinful deeds, but also because of the influence we inevitably wield. We should never make the mistake of thinking that our actions matter only to ourselves, because in some way and on some level, our actions affect other people, and this itself is a reason to resolutely and determinedly resist the lures of the many different forms of the “meisit” that we confront.