Tell me who’s your friend and I’ll tell you who you are. -Proverb
God commands Abraham to leave his land, his birthplace and his father’s home. In the process, Abraham is also leaving his childhood friends, the social network he grew up with and was familiar with his entire life. He’s commanded to leave all he knew, his comfort zone, and move to a new land, a new climate, a new culture and a new people.
We may go through life surrounded by friends of circumstance. Classmates, co-workers or neighbors become our closest friends, not from any conscious decision, but rather from a natural progression of circumstance, comfort and inertia. Rabbeinu Bechaye on Genesis 12:1, quoting King Solomon asks us to reconsider how we choose our friends. King Solomon in Proverbs 13:20 states: “He who walks with the wise will become wise, but the companion of fools will come to harm.”
So too, Abraham needed to leave the foolish people of his hometown before he could truly grow and serve God. They were holding him back from becoming the great man he had the potential to be: the beloved of God, the beacon of his generation and the forefather of the Jewish people.
Rabbeinu Bechaye is not saying we need to move countries to find worthy friends. What he is saying is that we should become closer to the wise and put some distance from the foolish. It’s a conscious effort. When we take the path of least resistance, we may fall back to old, unproductive patterns and relationships. However, when we look around and actively seek out those who are wise, those who are pursuing noble goals, people of character, integrity and purpose, and befriend them, we elevate ourselves. There is nothing artificial or conniving in purposely seeking out new friends, better friends, inspiring friends; of finding areas of joint interest; of identifying shared dreams and aspirations; of pursuing a common cause for the greater good.
Rabbeinu Bechaye compares befriending the wise to walking into a perfume store. Even if one didn’t buy anything, just having been in the store already improves ones scent. So too, being in the presence of the wise will rub off on a person. The converse is likewise true.
May we be worthy of wise friends and enjoy each other’s company.
To my own childhood friends, who’ve stayed in touch through all the continents and decades.