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Good Friends – Choose them Right and Keep them Forever

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Parsha Halacha – Parshat Korach (Chukat in Israel)

Tammuz 3, Yom HaHilulah of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
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The Torah portion of Korach tells of the rebellion Korach led against Moshe and Aharon and the tragic end of Korach and his followers.[1] According to the Talmud the people involved in this dispute were influenced by bad spouses and bad neighbors.
Specifically,
·        Korach was influenced by his wife who goaded him into fomenting a rebellion.[2]
·        The members of the tribe of Reuven were influenced by Korach since the tribe of Reuven camped near the family of Kehot (of which Korach was a member).[3]
On the other hand, according to the Talmud,[4] On ben Peles dropped out of the fight and was spared certain death because of the good influence of his wife.
As such, this article will focus on what the Torah and Sages say about having a good friend.

Better Death than No Friends

The Talmud[5] says that “people say” a life without friends is not worth living. In the words of the Talmud “או חברותא או מיתותא – either companionship or death.”[6]
The Rambam explains[7] that having a good friend is critical because a good friend will help him improve his actions and all aspects of his life (by alerting him to flaws that others may not see or are uncomfortable to point out). Due to the importance of this matter, one should endeavor with all of one’s might to find such a friend. One should put effort into the friendship and constantly strive to help his friend as needed. The relationship of the two friends should be one in which each seeks to fulfill the wish of the other.

A Friend One Can Trust

The Rambam speaks highly of having a friend one that can trust implicitly. One who has such a friend can confide everything to him. He can share every aspect of his life with him, both the good and the bad (since he knows his friend will not judge him harshly for his actions but neither will he gloss over them and will help him improve as needed).

A Friend with a Common Goal

The highest-level friend, according to the Rambam, is one with whom one shares a common goal – that of achieving a greater good (cleaving to G-d). Each of the friends assists the other to achieve this lofty goal. This is the kind of friend one should strive to acquire.

Acquire a Friend

The Mishna[8] says that Yehoshua, the son of Perachia, says, “Acquire a friend for yourself.” The commentaries explain[9] that the Mishnah uses the word “acquire” to indicate that one should be willing to spend money on acquiring a friend.
No Lashon HaRa
The commentaries say[10] that by having good friends one will be in a position not to speak negatively about other people. Since he spends time with good people, he will only speak about their good qualities rather than about the bad qualities of people he barely knows.

Maintaining a Friend – by Overlooking the Small Stuff

If one feels that his friend hurt him in some way, it is (usually) best to overlook it in order to maintain the friendship. (One must be careful, on the other hand, not to be in an abusive relationship and should seek outside counsel if he feels that this may be the case.) King Solomon said about this,[11] “He who conceals transgression seeks love [i.e., by overlooking small transgressions towards oneself, one will keep the love of his friends], but he who harps on a matter alienates his beloved [one who doesn’t ‘get over’ these issues and harps over them will find himself with no friends].[12]

The Straight Path – A Good Friend

The Mishnah[13] records how Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai challenged his five (main) students to find the right path that one should choose for himself. Rabbi Yehoshua’s answer to this question was “a good friend.”[14] Such a friend will be frank and inform one of one’s shortcomings. Since the criticism will be spoken out of love, one will accept it. Rabbi Yehoshua had this experience as his mother had this kind of relationship with him.[15]

The Worst Path in Life – a Bad Friend

In answer to what would be the worst path one could choose in life, Rabbi Yehoshua said, “a bad friend.” A bad friend will influence one to sin and possibly ruin his life.
An example of a bad friend is Yonadav, the son of Shemaya, brother of King David. He was a close friend of his first cousin Amnon, King David’s oldest son. The Book of Shmuel tells how Amnon was lovesick for his half-sister Tamar. Yonadav advised him to feign illness and ask King David to send his sister to serve him his favorite food. When Tamar came, this gave Amnon the opportunity to take advantage of Tamar. In addition to the terrible effect this had on Tamar, it also resulted in the death of Amnon himself as Tamar’s (full) brother Avshalom killed Amnon in revenge.[16] The chain of tragedies didn’t end there as this brought about the rebellion Avshalom led against his father, King David. This, in turn, led to many other unnecessary deaths including that of Avshalom himself.[17]
On his own, Amnon would not have had the audacity to carry out the crime had his friend not advised him to do so. In addition, had Yonadav been a truly wise friend he would have advised Amnon to ask King David for permission to marry Tamar. (Although they were biologically related, they were not considered siblings by Torah law since Tamar was considered a convert.[18])
Based on this story, our sages said one should not become friendly with a wicked person even to (try to) teach them Torah.[19]

A Torah Learning-Partner

The Talmud says[20] that one should always study with a partner. The advantage of this is that each of the study partners can correct the other’s mistakes. One who learns alone may misunderstand an aspect of Torah and remain with that mistake. In addition, one with a mistaken understanding (in a matter of Jewish law) may sin as a result of this misunderstanding.[21]
In the words of the Talmud, “Just as two pieces of metal sharpen each other so, too, two Torah scholars sharpen each other’s wisdom.” And, “The Torah is compared to fire. Just as fire needs (at least) two pieces of fuel, so too, one should study the Torah with (at least) one more person.”

Exceptions

·        No Partners Available
If one does not have a partner available with whom to study, he should not refrain from studying. Rather he should study alone until he finds a partner.[22]
·        Good Books
Some say that a study partner was only necessary in Talmudic times when the Torah was learned orally without the aid of books. At that time (due to forgetfulness) one was more likely to err in his learning. Now that we have many sefarim (holy books) a partner is no longer necessary. On the contrary, the book itself is like a friend. The Mishnah (cited above) can be interpreted to allude to this, as the words קְנֵה לך חבר can be read as לך חבר קָנֶה – A book (the word קָנֶה means a reed or a pen and alludes to books written by these instruments) should be your friend.[23]
·        Depends on the Temperament
The Sefer Chassidim says,[24] “Some people are more successful at their learning when they study alone than when they study with a partner. About such people it says, ‘They shall be for you alone.’”[25]

No Friends? Ask Your Wife

The Peleh Yo’etz[26] writes that one who needs advice but doesn’t have a friend to consult with should ask his wife. This is what Rabbi Elazar ben Azaryah did before accepting the post as the head of the Sanhedrin.[27] As the Talmud says,[28] “If your wife is short, bend down and whisper (your question) in her ear.”
Good Friends for Your Children
The Peleh Yo’etz writes[29] that one should take care to keep his children away from bad friends. Furthermore, one should make sure they spend time with great Torah scholars.[30]
May Hashem Grant Us the Blessing of Good Friends for Us and Our Children!
[1] Numbers, 16
[2] Sanhedrin 110a. See also Midrash Tanchuma on verse 3 and Yalkut Me’am Lo’ez on verse 1
[3] Rashi on verse 1
[4] Sanhedrin ibid
[5] Ta’anit 23a
[6] This is brought in connection to Choni HaMe’agel who slept for 70 years. When he woke up and returned to the study hall, people didn’t believe that he was Choni and did not treat him so respectfully. He than asked G-d to make him die rather than live without being appreciated. Rava commented on this story and said, “This is what people say, “Either companionship or death.”
[7] Pirush HaMishnayot on Avot 1:6
[8] Pirkei Avot, 1:6
[9] Rabbi Ovadiah of Bartenura and Tiferet Yisrael
[10] Rabbi Moshe Elshakar quoted in Midrash Shmuel on Avot ibid
[11] Proverbs 17:9
[12] Rabbeinu Yonah on Avot 1:6
[13] Pirkei Avot 2:9
[14] But see the Mishnah that the other rabbis had other answers. Rabbi Yochanan preferred the answer of “a good heart.”
[15] Tiferet Yisrael
[16] Shmuel II, Chapter 13
[17] See ibid chapters 15-18
[18] See Sanhedrin 21a (as explained by Rashi) that Tamar’s mother was an Eshet Yefat To’ar (a gentile woman taken by King David in war time). Since she became pregnant with Tamar before she converted, Tamar was considered a convert and not a Halachic sister of King David’s other children.
[19] Mechilta Yitro, Parsha 1, quoted in Yalkut Me’am Loez on Shmuel II 13:3 in the name of the Sefer Chassidim
[20] Ta’anit 7a
[21] Maharsha on Makkot 10a
[22] Hagahot HaYavetz on Ta’anit 7a, based on Avot 3:2. Cited in the Yalkut Bi’urim on the Metivta Shas
[23] Rashi on the Mishnah, Maharam Mintz in responsa 65, cited in the Metivta Shas, Yalkut Bi’urim, note 33
[24] Siman 540
[25] Proverbs 5:17
[26] Entry Chavruta
[27] Brachot end of 27b
[28] Bava Metzi’ah 59a
[29] Entry Chavruta
[30] The Previous Rebbe wrote (Igrot Kodesh, vol. 1, page 31) that saying the chapter of Tehillim of one’s children that correspond to their age is a segulah that they go on a good path.
Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom UMevorach from the Holy City of Yerushalayim!

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