Producer/director Michael Moore has said: “There is a gullible side to the American people. They can be easily misled.” But Moore did not go far enough. It is not just the American people who can be easily misled. It is all people. The Book of Deuteronomy serially lists the law regarding the false prophet who leads people into serving false gods (Deuteronomy 13:2-6), the law regarding a family member who similarly convinces kin to go astray (Deuteronomy 13:7-12), and the law regarding the theological corruption of an entire city (Deuteronomy 13:13-19).
Early sixteenth century Don Isaac Abarbanel sees in this series three kinds of seduction: seduction by religious authority, seduction by family, and seduction by majority. Given the trust placed in religious authorities, in family, and in one’s peers, each had the power to mislead. And each has the possibility in succeeding in seduction given human gullibility.
Given the noticeable decline in religious authority, contemporary society may not fear the deception of a prophet but is certainly vulnerable to the deception of demagogues, glib and charismatic charlatans who win over the masses with simplistic and jingoistic solutions to complex problems, promising heaven and delivering hell. The influence of tradition is equal to – and perhaps, greater than – that of family. Tradition can seduce its bearers to mindlessly and unquestioningly conform to patterns of behavior and ideas rather than authentically examine them. And just as the majority of the residents of an ancient city seduce individual citizens into abandoning their principles, the same can be said for peer pressure still today.
Abarbanel’s three kinds of seduction find their modern counterparts, making the danger just as real. And the abiding message of the Torah is to be ever aware of the danger and thus less likely to be taken in.