Every so often you read one of those horrible reports of some poor elderly person, living alone, who had passed away and not been discovered for months. It’s always the same story; the mail piled up, there was a strange smell coming from the apartment, but even so no one caredBad neighbors can cause so much aggravation and worry enough to go over and investigate. From the circumstances, you’d assume that there is no close family, but you do have to wonder, where were the neighbors?

It's also not uncommon to hear stories where the neighbors seem, if anything, too concerned with the goings-on over the back fence. Whether internecine suburban warfare over partying and noise, or corporate fights over unpaid dues, some of the most vicious cases presented to the nation’s tribunals are between neighbors who just can’t get along.

Bad neighbors can cause so much aggravation and worry. How many people have felt forced to move due to the heartache caused by the people living next door? But good neighbors can also become good friends. I know people who are fully Torah observant today due to the inspiration they picked up from the people living next door as they were growing up. They observed the bonds of harmony and sense of purpose that prevailed there and decided that they wanted the same in their future homes.

In this week’s Torah portion, which describes the living and traveling arrangements of the Jews during their journeys through the desert, there are two references to the effect that neighbors can have on each other. The first instance is of the tribe of Reuven, whose camp was adjacent to the tent of the wicked Korach. Unfortunately, some of the members of Reuven were negatively influenced by him and when the rebellion began, 250 Reuvenites sided with Korach, declared war on Moses, and ultimately perished. As Rashi comments, “Woe to an evil person, woe to his neighbors.” (Bamidbar 3:29)

Later in the parsha we read about the 3 tribes of Yehuda, Yissachar, and Zevulun, who merited to live next door to Moses’ and Aaron’s families. Those tribes were positively influenced by their neighbors and eventually became known for their Torah knowledge and spiritual accomplishments. Proximity to greatness permanently influenced entire tribes. In an almost inverse observation to his comment on the earlier verse, Rashi notes, “Happy is a righteous person, happy is his neighbor.” (Bamidbar 3:39)

Notice the impact of a positive environment comparedNotice the impact of a positive environment to that of a negative one. With Moses and Aaron living nearby, three entire tribes benefited and their positive influence lasted throughout history. Contrast this with the pernicious effect of living next to Korach; only a tiny fraction of the one tribe living closest was negatively influenced.

Good will always overpower evil, and the positive effects of spiritual exposure far outweigh that of negativity. Even when the negative influence is right next door you have the ability to resist their blandishments by connecting to G‑d and his Torah. Avoid getting caught up in neighborhood disputes and never be distracted from your mission by malevolent forces. Stay strong and be assured that you shall overcome.

Happy is the person who has righteous neighbors. Aspire to emulate the standards of morality and virtue that you encounter, and be ready to be inspired by the helpful people waiting to greet you over the back fence of life.