The news from the Middle East is very troubling. Not only that but the Hebrew calendar has moved into the “three weeks” of challenges. What can we do? There are many things to do. I just got back from a special communal prayer session organized by the community.
Another thing we can do, when there is enmity and strife being expressed so strongly, is to combat it spiritually with increased love and caring. To that end I offer some tools from the sages on friendship.
Who is a real friend?
Someone I know used to be a millionaire. Riding high with a successful business he had a Rolls Royce, his children in good schools and everything he wanted. One day the bank that holds the loans on his business goes under and the government suddenly owns everything. He has to give over everything he owns except the watch on his hand.
Devastated and unable to secure new loans he pulls back to more humble aspirations. Strangely all the people he thought were his friends are no longer interested in him.
Two people on his board, who he didn’t think of as such close friends decide they are going to at least take him out to lunch every week to help keep his spirits up. Out of all the people he knew, two people come through for him when the chips are down. Isn’t it a shame he didn’t recognize them as two true friends before?
“Do you miss all the wealth?” I ask him. “Nah”, he says, “I’m happier now. But I do kind of miss the Rolls.”
We all have people we consider friends, yet they may just be people whose company we enjoy or people we have some bond or association with. In Hebrew the word “Chaver”, friend, comes from the word “chibur” or bond. Anyone we have some bond with is some kind of friend.
Mel, Frank, and Bob are bowling buddies. Every Tuesday night they can be found at the bowling alley having a beer and enjoying each other’s company. One day Frank slips on his kid’s toy truck and tears the anterior cruciate ligament in his knee. While Frank is waiting for a hamstring graft Mel and Bob go bowling.
They lift up their Bud Light and say, “Here’s to Frank who can’t be with us tonight.” Isn’t that sweet? They like Frank. They care about Frank. But their real connection to Frank is the bowling. If Frank can’t make it they still go. If they were true friends, they’d skip the bowling and go hang out with Frank instead.
How to have friends
Luckily, the sages give us sound advice how to engender and keep real friends. One piece of advice has to do with the concept we introduced of “connection”. What is your connection with the other person? Is it humor, fashion, circumstance, bowling? Connections on a physical plane often lead to weak friendships. Physicality is weak; things built on physicality are weak.
A friendship that’s built on ideas, values, morality, is a stronger link, a stronger connection, and therefore has the potential to be a stronger and truer friendship.
Cut me some slack. We are all human. During the heat of the World Cup, the famous French soccer star Zidane head butted an Italian player who apparently insulted Zidane. When asked about it Zidane said “I’m only human.” How true. We are all only human. Your friends are only human. They will make mistakes. The longer you have a friendship, the longer the list will be of offenses. If you don’t cut your friends slack for their mistakes, you will lose your friends.
We’re all a bit meshugenah
Who doesn’t have a personality quirk? Rabbi Avigdor Miller once said, “Don’t be surprised when you find out that your spouse is a little bit meshugenah. Everyone is a little bit meshugenah.” The only problem is we usually only notice the other person’s meshigass, and not our own.
Appreciating your friends means accepting them with their flaws. The Almighty commands us to love humanity. But God, look at them. Their all so flawed, so weak, so immoral. Surely he can’t mean the billions of people on the planet. Oh, yes He does.
He expects us to excuse their faults, and find the beauty inside each one of them. When you do that you will find the little piece of Godliness hidden inside them.
Ask yourself to label at least one special quality that you admire most from each of your three closest friends.