Where and What Does the Torah Teach us about Friends?
By Yisrael Smith, Ben Kozuch, and Tziyona
Avot 1:6 “and buy for yourself friend.”
To roughly translate the main ones:
Rambam (Maimonides) – The Mishnah means to say that having a friend to keep one on track is so important that he should be willing to literally pay for that. Don’t expect to have a friendship on your terms – always be open to your friend’s terms. If each of the two thinks this way – i.e. that the other’s desires precede his own – then the friendship will be one of amazing unity. (He goes on to discuss a saying of Aristotle about varieties of friendship. See there.)
- Yonah– (There is overlap between what he says and what Rambam says. I will highlight the main addition found here.) One needs a friend for three things:
- To learn from the friend– specifically in regards to Torah, though this is logically far-reaching
- For the friend to tell him off– when he is doing the wrong thing and does not realize it
- To receive advice from the friend and to have the friend as a confidant – having someone to discuss ideas with and to entrust with the thoughts of one’s mind is crucial
There are certainly many more worthy sources, but this Mishnah and it’s commentaries are certainly the place to start.
Significant as well would be what our Sages have to say about the friendship between King David and Saul’s son Jonathan, considered to be the paradigm for friendships.
In Judaism there’s generally two ways to discover the essence of something. One way (used a lot by the Maharal) is to look at the word itself and analyze the etymology (Method 1). The Maharal calls that technique לשון נופל על לשון/Language that falls on Language.
Another technique to discover the essence of something, which a couple of the commentators (Tzidkos Hatzadik by Rav Tzadok) use, is to find the first occurrence of that word or concept in the Torah and from the context of where that first occurrence, you can learn about the essence of that word or topic (Method 2).
Method 1 (Part A):
So how do you say friend in hebrew? Well just like eskimos have many words for snow, so too there are many words for friend in Hebrew.
One is חבר (Chaver). The etymology of this word means connected. Not LinkedIn connected, but a deep connection. Anyone you feel a connection with can be considered your friend. Obviously the degree to which you feel that connection, is the degree to which you are a chaver!
Method 1 (Part B):
The second is רע (pronounced RAY-AH). This is an interesting word for Friend because the etymology actually means evil! Can it be? Why would the word for friend have the root/etymology of evil? Well without getting too deep and spiritual in this quora post. In general God created evil in this world and within our selves (look up yetzer harah) in order for us to overcome and grow. Meaning evil is actually a good thing. Its purpose to help us grow and overcome. Don’t we grow the most from hard challenges? Well thats what evil is there for. (Obviously many people fail that challenge, which is why there is lots of “bad” stuff in the word…but evils purpose is to be overcomed and as an aid for growth). The Midrash says that when god created evil on the sixth day of creation, God exclaimed “Tov Meod” (which means very good) which in contrast to all the other days when God said just “Tov” (Good) means that evil is actually a very good thing because of its potential to help us grow!!!!
So in short, according to this etymology of Ray-Ah, a friend should be in a sense Evil to you. To quote what Joe Smith said in his answer from the Rabbeinu Yona:
- (Rabbeinu Yonah)For the friend to tell him off – when he is doing the wrong thing and does not realize it
- Rambam (Maimonides) – The Mishnah means to say that having a friend to keep one on track
No one likes getting rebuke or criticism from other people. Its a slap to the face and it really hurts especially if its not done the right way. But a True friend in the Torah sense is someone that really loves you and knows you so well to the point where he can kindly point out your flaws in a way that although it might hurt a little bit (evil) but it helps you grow and become a better more developed person!
Method 1 (Part C):
The third and last word for friend (maybe theres more and I just dont know) is ידיד (Yedid).
The maharal says that when analyzing hebrew words such as ידיד which has a sub-root that repeats itself (in this case the sub-root is יד ) so the actual root/etymology of that word is the sub-root.
So the root of ידיד is יד which means hand. And as you can see there are two hands in that word יד – יד. Well pictures speak louder than words:
In other words friends go through experiences together. They grow up together. They learn together. They eat together. They go through things holding hands. When there is a big test, they study together. They quiz each other. If a car is coming, one pulls the other away (because he’s hold the others hand!)
Joe Smith touched on the main topics of what the Torah comes to tell us about friends. I especially have always thought of the Avot 1:6 “and buy for yourself friend” as very poignant.
It is important to realize that it takes money to have a relationship; so it does mean to be there to lend (not that this condones abusive behaviors) money when needed, to buy gifts, to give parties (like Sheva Brachos) and more important there is the concept of the Shalom fund. When something doesn’t come out right; your friend’s child breaks something expensive, there is a disagreement between two friends, when the wrong thing was bought; decide that it is not worth getting upset about – consider the money was taken from your Shalom – peace fund. Maintain the relationship and consider the money well spent.
In Job; we are taught what friends shouldn’t do in the time of disaster. They shouldn’t come and condemn, belittle, and accuse like the friends of Job did when he couldn’t be reconciled. But we do learn from them that they came and were there for him.