We are stretching in ahavas yisrael together to create z’chuyos for K’lal Yisrael in these urgent times.
Last week’s stretch of the week was: Identify an ahavas yisrael issue with which you could use guidance from a rav or mentor.
Please allow ONE person to share her experience with this exercise for ONE minute.
Situations Lesson #9
PIRKAY AVOS--ETHICS OF OUR FATHERS
Acquire For Yourself a Friend
וקנה לך חבר
U’K’nay L’cha Chavair-
Perek Aleph, Mishna Vav Part 2
Story: (based on a true story)
When I moved into a town where I knew almost no one, I was at a loss. Having moved far from my parents and the city where I grew up, married barely a year, just out of school with a new baby, I wasn’t sure exactly what to do or how to make friends and my best friend from college was just married and often unavailable. New to motherhood, strange town, no friends, loss of the structure of school and no job yet; in one word-- lost.
I coasted for a little while. I met a few people at the park and we got our babies together, though it was more for us than for them. I tried a shiur but my baby wouldn’t stay quiet and I had no help at home. And then one day, one of the women I had met who I got along well with said “yes” when I asked if she might like to learn something with me. It took us a bit to get started, but soon enough we began picking our way through our first sefer together, five minutes at a time.
As we learned, we often discussed our days and our lives within the context of what we learned. Whether it was Sefer HaToda’a and the Jewish year, the halachos of sh’miras halashon or the inyanim of women and tefilla, we applied it to our lives overall and to whatever had frustrated us that day. Little things became more meaningful through questions my friend Tova asked and suggestions she made, and I hope I did the same for her.
Learning with a friend gives you the benefit of a second perspective, and the push to actually sit and not only do the learning but think about it. But for me, there was at least one other huge benefit. Tova had an important perspective I did not, and I slowly absorbed it through our conversations over the years. As a child in a small family and an avid student, I had unknowingly spent much of my time growing up focused on myself, particularly intellectual pursuits. Now here I was, married and mothering a small child, without a school, teachers, or family in sight and needing to make daily dinners as well as large yomim tovim on my own.
Tova is by no means an angel; she is a living, breathing, fallible human being who has told me that she learns much needed perspective from me as well. But to me, she is also a model of an innate love of others and a natural tendency to give to them. I would marvel at how she was making what seemed to me to be elaborate dinners that were often very time consuming, and she would nonchalantly tell me that her husband liked them. Or she would casually mention a meal she was making for the family down the block because they were having a hard week, as if everyone just did that.
Giving, just to give, because another person needs it and you noticed, was a wonderful concept that I learned about and occasionally practiced. Through years of parsing through our lives as we learned, I absorbed the practical knowledge of accomplishing that idea, not just know it. I learned to look past my cynicism a little more often and see good in others. I learned to pour love into the Yom Tov food I made instead of resentment that I couldn’t just go to my parents and the fact that my kids were picky eaters. I learned about kibbud av vo’aim. All these things I was taught in shiurim and through Torah tapes were easier to apply as I watched Tova do them every day.
I learned from many others in my life, of course, but there is little that can compare to someone with whom you speak every day, making yourself vulnerable enough to take apart your life and be open for growth. I grow with my husband in many ways, but he is not a fellow mother. Plus, unburdening on a friend helps me not to constantly complain to my husband.
Tova and I learned for close to ten years, through halacha and hashkafa and nine books, five to ten minutes at a time, through the birth of seven children between the two of us. We tapered off as our lives got even busier and our little free time ceased to match up. Though we are still friends, I miss the regular introspection and growth through boosting each other through every-day events. I daven regularly that my children should have real friends like this, and should put in the effort to make it work.
I found and go to a shiur that meets once a week. It’s a small one, where we can discuss and grow together, and we feel connected. I continue to make the effort and go because none of us can afford to reach a day where we stop learning from, doing for, and growing with others.
“Y’hoshua ben P’rachya v’Ni’tie Ha’arbayli kib’lu maihem. Y’hoshua ben P’rachya omer, …u’k’nay l’cha chavair…”
“Y’hoshua ben P’rachya and Ni’tie of Arbel received from them. Y’hoshua ben P’rachya says, “Acquire for yourself a friend…” (Perek Aleph, Mishne Vav).
A colleague is vital for leading a proper life. How well did Choni Hama’agal recognize this when, after having risen from a sleep of seventy years, he exclaimed in his loneliness, “Give me companionship or give me death!” (Ta’anis 23a).
A colleague helps a person progress in his service of G-d and in performing mitzvos. A friend whose rebuke is gentle, kind, and pleasantly uttered can dissuade a person from engaging in unworthy behavior. “Sweeter is a friend than taking counsel with oneself,” states King Solomon (Proverbs 27:9). A friend can see things from a fresh perspective and offer the wisdom of a sympathetic and objective onlooker. And, a friend can be a source of comfort when sharing one’s burden in troubled times.
In his commentary on the mishna, the Rambam lists three types of relationships. The first and most common is a utilitarian relationship. This is the connection between two people who seek to gain some practical advantage, a shallow relationship based on self-gratification that includes financial dealings, shared superficial interests, and so forth. This is what our sages refer to as “love dependent on a matter.” And, as they state, “when the matter is no longer available, the love too disappears” (Avos 5:19).
The second type of connection is a deeply satisfying relationship, a long term relationship in which one’s needs are met and in which the two have full confidence in each other. Each one can pour his heart out, knowing that he has someone upon whom to rely.
But there is yet a third, higher type of connection: an elevated relationship. That is the connection between two people who share a spiritual goal and who depend upon each other to attain it. This is the only love that, we are assured, will never dissipate, since it is a “love dependent on no thing.” It is this kind of love that our mishna refers to.
(Reproduced from Rav Lau on Pirkei Avos, with permission of the copyright holders, ArtScroll / Mesorah Publications, Ltd.)
Discussion Question Options:
Why do we need to be directed to “k’nay”, to acquire or “buy” ourselves a friend? Is there a danger of taking friendship for granted?
How does true friendship help us to better ourselves?
In what ways is ahavas yisrael developed and expressed through friendship?
Stretch of the Week:
Look for a way to help a friend.