In Pirkei Avot (Chapter 1), Rabbi Yehoshua ben Perachya says, “Find yourself a rabbi and buy yourself a friend.” This sounds like strange advice. We want our friends to like us for who we are and not because we gave them something. And yet if our great Sages tell us that this is something that we should strive for, we must take a closer look at what the mishna means.
From a very young age we start accumulating friends, from nursery to grade school, from our neighbors to our fellow campers, etc. Friends take up a substantial part of our lives. However, this process is generally quite natural. It doesn’t seem like we need to buy our friends. We usually click with people that make us feel good when we are around them. If we have friends whom we feel we need to “buy,” or give them gifts that will make them want to be our friends, those don’t seem like the type who will remain our friends for the long term. To buy a friend seems shallow and conniving. Of course, it’s also possible to buy someone with good words.
However, I think that the word “buy” can be interpreted in a different manner. Buying can express endearment, such as when we see something very special in a shop, perhaps a piece of jewelry, and want to buy it. Once we possess it, we will take care of it with all our hearts. We will place it in a good, safe location, and every time we wear it we will be filled with joy. This type of buying doesn’t seem shallow at all.
I think that is the lesson that our Sages are trying to teach us. When we choose our friends and connect to certain types of people, we must make sure that they are good people inside and out. Just like a person will pick the smartest student in the class to study for the test with in order to be sure to pass, together with these types of friends we will be able to worship the Almighty in a better way. We must look for a good, true friend with whom we can grow closer to Hashem together, and not the reverse.
If we bought an expensive sweater or car, we would make a great effort to care for those precious items. If it’s a sweater, we make sure to buy the right detergent in order to wash it properly, and we fold it nicely in the drawer so that it won’t get wrinkled. If it’s a car, we wash it regularly and buy covers for the seats so that they don’t get dirty. The point is that we spend lots of money on the things that we like and want to keep in good shape. If we have a good friend that we want to stay close to, aside from the great company we share with each other, we also make sure to be helpful to this friend. If she needs a ride somewhere or wants something picked up from the store, we try to help her out.
A good word or a hug or a listening ear – all these are things with which we buy our friends. We need not be taken aback by the word “buy” – rather, we can see it as something special. If there is something good and valuable, we want to buy it and cherish it all the time.
I have some friends from the time I was quite young and they are so precious and dear to me. Staying close for so many years shows how important and special the relationship is. These special friendships grow deeper and deeper with each day and year that goes by. The more we put into them, the more they will grow and give back, just like a beautiful flower that we water and take care of. The beauty is there for us to enjoy.
Whether it’s a friend from our childhood or a good friend from work, let us set out this year to cherish our friendships and take care of them in the best way so that together we will grow and become better people, better friends, and closer to Hashem.