Parshat Korach relates the story of Korach, Datan, Aviram and 250 members of the shevet (tribe) of Reuven challenging Moshe’s choice for Kohen Gadol (high priest). The end result was that the 250 members were burned by a heavenly fire, and the three leaders were miraculously swallowed by the earth. From a motive perspective, Korach’s actions makes the most sense because he felt slighted for not having been chosen himself, and had something to potentially gain by complaining. But why would 250 people follow him to their certain death, with apparently little to gain?
The answer can be found in Rashi, the great medieval commentator, who writes that just as Korach’s family camped on the southern side of the Mishkan (Tabernacle), so did the tribe of Reuven. Rashi quotes the words of Chapters of the Fathers, “woe to an evil person, and woe to their neighbor.” The 250 people met their demise simply because they were influenced by their neighbors. This points to the awesome influence that friends, neighbors and associates have on us. Who we surround ourselves with is a matter of life and death. Do we have positive friends and neighbors? And just as importantly, are WE positive friends and neighbors to others?