I noticed she had wrapped her head not in her customary sheitel, but in a scarf, and I said as much as our two cars sped past each other, in reverse directions, on one of Jerusalem’s main streets. In turn, she giggled into her dashboard phone; it had been too long since we had embraced. That afternoon, as well, a face-to-face meeting was not ours to be had. At least we had had the opportunity to smile and to wave. Even that modest portion of shared experience meant a lot to us; we regard our friendship as precious.
Friends might be but a single component of a lev tov, of a good heart (a good neighbor, and a good eye, i.e. judging other folks favorably, being the other ingredients), yet friends remain an invaluable life commodity. In Mishnah Pirkei Avot, Rabbi Yehoshua ben Perachyah, the former nasi, i.e. leader, of the Sanhedrin, is quoted as saying “get yourself a friend.” Many commentators go so far as to translate Rabbi Yehoshua ben Perachyah’s charge “get” as meaning, not just “acquire,” but, also, if necessary, “pay for,” a friend, konei lekha haver.”
Levi ben Gershon, The RalBag, i.e. Gersonides, more specifically, explained in Ha Deyos v’ha Middot, The (Torah) Knowledge and the Personal Qualities, that “paying for” a friend can include having to: tolerate their foibles, spend money on them, use up time or energy on them, and, maybe, for their own well-being, fight with them. That is, being a friend can mean having to shell out resources.
But that sort of payment is not a bad thing; as Rabbi Pinchas Avruch, referring to the writing of Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler’s Michtav Me''Eliyahu, Letter from Elijah, and to Derech Eretz Zuta, the portion of the Talmud concerned with “how we are to treat one another and what traits of character, middot, we are to try to develop,” states, in “Investment Strategy,” that we love that into which we have to invest ourselves.
In truth, I do not feel as though I have to forfeit, per se, for the sake of that gal pal of mine, the one who was driving toward one end of town while I was driving away from the same. I feel the converse. She recites Tehillim more meticulously than I do, and, when our families get together, is calmer with, sweeter to, and generally more hospitable toward our joint crowd than I could ever be. Rather than fault her for those favorable character traits, I work to continue to be jealous of them.
I suffer in our relationship only in that I find it challenging to create ways to use my resources for her. She gives and gives and gives. I stumble to impart anything to her. At least when we lived in the same community, I could bring her, when I visited, Shabbot flowers or wine. These days, when many kilometers separate our domiciles, all I can provide for her, most often, is a listening ear.
Further, as per those respectful disagreements that color many friendships, they don’t seem to frequently season our talks. Rarely, and then only concerning topics like raising teens and twenties, or like ways to improve our attitudes about our klita process, is mussar shared between us. Nonetheless, those always lovingly-framed, sometimes uncomfortably stark, suggestions, which we make to each other, are part of the value of our union.
A friend is a relation we turn to for aid in our personal growth. Rabbi Dovid Rosenfeld writes in “Peer Pressure” that “a friend is a true soul mate, one who influences us on the profoundest level.”Rabbi Rosenfeld then reifies his position by also citing Rabbi Yehoshua ben Perachyah;
one who wants to succeed in life must acquire for himself a good friend…. With the support of proper friendships, we are capable of seeing far more in ourselves, delving far deeper into our souls, and defining and becoming aware of our inner selves. A rabbi or teacher can lecture to you for hours on end, but only when you and a friend together discover what life is all about will you truly discover G-d.
Conversely … nothing can be more detrimental than a bad friend [,] one who is unworthy and exerts a negative influence on you. Friends touch each other in the most intimate manner possible with their soul-bond and heart-to-heart discussions. Be touched by one who teaches you to live for yourself and ignore the beckonings of your soul -- or one who sees friendship as a means of sharing gossip and bitterness -- or one who betrays your trust and friendship, repaying you instead with manipulation and verbal abuse -- and you will be hurt as deeply and intensely as the good friend can build you up.
In other words, that cherished other of mine, that friend who had business at the opposite part of town, is precious to me not only because of the good influence she has on my life, but also because of the lack of bad impact she has on me. When I smile in her presence, it is not just because she is nurturing, but also because I trust her effect on me to continue to be benificent.
True friends help us tow the line/walk the derech. They give us chizuk when we are down and (strong) ethical guidance when we are being stupid. As psychologist and family therapist Emuna Braverman posits in “Friendship and Empathy,” it is those people who help us feel joyous about our heights (and, by implication, regretful about our lows).
Accordingly, it was of no surprise than when I knew I would be heading toward the vicinity from which my friend was exiting, no matter how brief would be our anticipated encounter, I was excited to “see” her. We love our friends both because they nurture us and prune us and because we “pay for,” i.e. invest in, them. Rabbi Sholom Ber Levitin, quoting Me’am Lo’ez, reminds us in “Friendship,” that it is impossible to survive without friends.