A dear friend in Kibbutz Ramat Hakovesh e-mailed me recently and one of his questions asked me what I do with my time. I replied in two words “being redundant”, which due to his limited knowledge of English I had to translate to Hebrew as ”yetirut; lihiyot meyutar”. That he could then understand me !
Readers who have followed my writing over the past six years are more familiar with my redundancy, in particular with many of my 1,184 articles, many of which refer to the philosophy by which I have always lived my life, namely the Talmudic “o chavruta o mituta”… give me friendship or give me death.
The late beloved Talmudic giant and genius, the greatest scholar of the century, Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz z”l, explained that the statement found in the Talmud, Taanit 23 a, is an expression of true love. In his own words, he commented that “one who has no real friends is better off dead”.
Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi, another early Talmudic scholar, commented on the phrase that “one who sees his or her friend only after thirty days since last seeing that friend, must recite the blessing of Shehecheyanu”, (giving thanks to God for reaching the occasion) .
And he continued, “And one who has not seen a dear friend after 12 months have passed, is obligated to recite “Baruch m’chayeh ha maitim”, Blessed be He who revives the dead.
As another rabbi has written, “true friendship brings a piece of you alive”.
Psalm 81, refers to the Rosh Hashanah custom of blowing the shofar. He regards the teruah blasts in the following term: “aleh Elokim b’teruah”… God ascends with a teruah blast which is sounded from the shofar on Rosh Hashanah.
Rabbi David Steinberg has interpreted the comment as “we experience the infusion of Godliness in the world when we cultivate teruah, which stands for friendship, love, companionship, devotion and fellowship with one another”.
Thus, I return to my ever redundant love of the phrase “o chavruta o mituta”… friendship or death.
The love and devotion of Israeli friends, in particular, is greater than that found amidst other peoples or cultures. Anglo-Saxons are generally cool in their relationship to others. They are much less physically behaved in a friendly relationship as compared to Israelis and many Europeans.
Among Israelis who usually kiss and embrace friends upon meeting and departing, such is basically foreign to others. An exception might be the French who practice the Israeli manner of expressing sincere friendship and devotion. Many other European cultures endorse and follow the practice.
I can never dismiss the Talmudic comment on love and friendship in my life. Without it, I would prefer the option of death. For me, a life without genuine devoted love of friends is no life. It is, rather, a living and lonely death.
It is, without doubt, the reason for many of my comments over the years. Readers may call it redundancy. I call it remembering.
It is especially more important for me in these tragic days of coronavirus when we are masked and lacking of the opportunity and the blessing of demonstrating our love by hugs and kisses.
We are locked by force into a world of semi-darkness in which the light of devoted friendship is sadly dimmed from our lives.
My late beloved wife always made it a practice of hugging and kissing our children and grandchildren every time she saw them. I have continued that practice.
Words alone between family and friends are deeply insufficient. Everyone has the right and the need to know how much they are loved, wanted and appreciated with warm embraces and mask-less faces.
Anglo-Saxon readers will have to forgive my strong devotion to friends from long ago and even now.
I will never make an apology for this aspect of my redundancy. As I replied to my friend in the Ramat HaKovesh kibbutz, “ani amshich lihiyot meyutar”… in that matter I will continue being redundant.
And to prove it, I send my love and blessings to my devoted readers who remain faithful over the years. From a distance I send embraces and kisses.
As the Talmud teaches us, “o chavruta o mituta”. Give me friendship or give me death. No other choice.