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True Friends, Traveling 700 Miles

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From the gmail statuses and e-mail forwards I get, it seems like everyone has some idea of what true friendship is all about. Here are some quotes I’ve seen:

“There is no distance too far between best friends, because friendship gives wings to the heart.”

“Friendship is the comfort of knowing that when you feel alone you aren’t.”

“True friends stab you in the front.”

“A true friend is someone who thinks that you are a good egg even though he knows that you are slightly cracked.”

“Friends are God’s way of apologizing to us for our families.”

“Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another, ‘What! You too? I thought I was the only one!”

“Strangers are friends waiting to happen.”

Nice quotes, but who are our real friends? Real friends aren’t the ones who always chat with you. Real friends aren’t the ones who always hug you. Real friends are the ones who are there when you need them and help you out in your times of need. Iyov’s friends traveled 700 miles to comfort him during his time of tzara. In those days 700 miles would have taken them two weeks worth of traveling. Real friends travel two weeks for you; real friends would travel 700 miles.

“A great friend is someone who makes your problems their problems, just so you don’t have to go through them alone.”

Rabbi Dovid Orlofsky tells this story: A father asks his son how many friends he has. Confidently the son replies, “I have 200 friends.” His father is surprised and says, “Wow, you are so young and have so many friends, while all my life I worked, but I have just half a friend.” The son is confused. The father suggests a test. He tells the son to take a dead goat, put it in a sack and go to each friend explaining that he drank too much, got into a fight…and now he needs to bury the body. The son goes from friend to friend asking for help. Understandably not one of them wants to help him. The son returns to his father and admits his friends must have not been such good friends after all. He asks, “Dad, who is your half a friend?” The father gives the son an address and says, “Go to this man tell him you’re my son and need to bury the body.” The son goes to this man and does as his father says. The man takes a deep breath and hesitates. Then he says, “I really shouldn’t be doing this, but since you are so and so’s son, I can’t turn you away,” and reluctantly helps him. The son returns and asks his father “Why is this man just half a friend?” The father answers, “He said he shouldn’t be doing this. A real friend should be doing this.”

In Beraishis Hashem creates Man and says, “Man shouldn’t be alone.” And then He creates Chava – someone completely different than Adam. We are taught that man and woman were created differently in order to fill each other’s missing half. If we were completely the same, we could not help each other with what we might be missing. Our friends aren’t supposed to be exactly like us – our friends are meant to help us, so they need to compliment us.

In addition, Chazal tell us, “Oy l’rasha, oy l’shchaino.” Our friends are a great influence on our behavior, so we must make sure to choose friends who will have a positive influence on us and not ones who will drag us down. “Tov L’tzaddik, tov l’shchaino.” Chazal teach that spiritual relationships are the ones that last. Rewind back to Pre-1A. You chose your friends based on their snack. We’ve all heard, “If you give me some chips, I’ll be your best friend!” What happens when she has no more snacks? You’re not friends with her anymore. But when you base a friendship on growth, that friendship will last you a lifetime.

Rabbi Orlofsky reminds us that Rabi Akiva’s students died during Sefirah because they didn’t argue with one another. This makes very little sense! He says that real friends aren’t the ones who always agree with you. Real friends will have that heated debate with you – not because they are angry but because they care enough to force you to see the truth. We all have friends with whom we can stay up all night arguing over hashkafic concepts. You’re not arguing because you’re angry, but because you care and want your friend to find the true path.

Chazal teach that at Matan Torah Hashem held Har Sinai over our heads as a threat. How could Hashem have forced us to accept the Torah? Where was our bechirah, our choice? A teacher of mine once gave the following scenario based on a Maharal:

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