Many of you reading this will be following footballing (soccer) events taking place in South Africa at this time. Some of you will be supporting or backing your favorite teams, and may even have the scarf to match—but I don't think anyone here has World Cup fever as badly as one chap in the UK who seems to have gone a little crazy. He has actually tried to recreate the feel of a soccer field in the living room of his rented accommodation, and to that end has covered his floor with grassy turf from his local garden center. This lush green vista around his flat screen TV, complete with white markings and a corner flag, seems the perfect setting to watch the matches.

To ensure it stays fresh as long as possible, guests are being asked to remove their shoes, and the grass is of course watered regularly and given lots of light. It should all be great fun until his landlord gives him a penalty or a free kick!

What is it about watching team sports that humans so appreciate?

Participation in sport is something we can understand – we know the science of it, that exercise releases endorphins which make you feel good, exercise is good for the heart, helps us lose weight, etc. – but what do we gain from watching other people play sports, whether live in the stadium or on TV in the comfort of our own home? Is it the competitive aspect, the vicarious exercise, the thrill of "our team" winning, the camaraderie as we cheer or groan together, or is it simply something we do to kill time?

Presumably everyone has their own personal motivation and reason for enjoying sports, but there is one aspect I would like to discuss here and that is the attraction and power of belonging to a team, of being a team player. There seems to be something in our genetic makeup that predisposes us to want to be part of something greater than just being one individual, alone. We feel the need to belong to a group of like-minded souls, and belonging to that group gives us security and satisfaction, motivation and meaning. Possibly this need to belong is rooted in a low sense of self-esteem or a fear of sticking our head above the parapet; but it is not just humans who feel this need for a peer group: lions hunt in prides, fish swim in shoals, birds fly in flocks, etc. It is a deep-rooted natural instinct that we are seemingly born with.

The World Cup began this past Friday, in the week whose Torah reading, Korach, discusses a group of like-minded people who gathered together in rebellion against the leaders of the nation in an early form of a no-confidence motion. Led by Korach, Moses' first cousin, they complained of perceived power grabbing and nepotism by Moses and Aaron. What transpired next is preserved in the Torah for posterity. The ground beneath the rebel leaders opened beneath them, swallowing them alive. The two hundred and fifty members of Team Korach were then consumed by fire from Heaven, leaving their still-smoldering fire-pans littered on the ground.

Where did these 250 unfortunates come from? They all came from the tribe of Reuben, leading the commentators to ask why they all came from one specific tribe—why not from a few tribes? Surely the political unrest was spread evenly amongst the people? The great commentator Rashi answers this by quoting from the Mishnah (Negaim 12:6): "Woe to an evil person, and woe to his neighbor!" Because the tribe of Reuben was encamped next to the family of Korach, they fell under his sphere of influence and this tragically led to their rebellion against G‑d's appointed leader, and their subsequent deaths.

The lessons learned from this are clear. We all like to be part of a group or a team—that is our nature. It is also our nature to go along with the group and to give in to peer pressure, as it is the rare individual who can swim against the tide, ignoring calls for conformity. Our task then is to ensure that we, and our children, are mixing in the right circles and with the right people. When we get together with friends, the discussion and the activities should be about good and positive things. When our children meet their friends they should be engaged in wholesome activities, and reading or watching things that will help them grow Jewishly, and not, G‑d forbid, the opposite.

Our task is also to ensure that we and our children understand the powerful effects of peer pressure, and that we have the moral fiber to stand up to the group if our conscience tells us something is wrong. Our moral code as laid down in the Torah is clear and unchanging. National cultures and social mores may change with the seasons, but we must stay firm and sure in the knowledge of what is right and what is not, and to share that stability with others around us, swaying in a turbulent world.

May we merit to be blessed with moral clarity, and to truly live up to the title of G‑d's Chosen People.