On friendship

There is little in a man’s life more dear to him than a treasured friend. We all have many acquaintances, people we work with, people who we meet casually, even people with whom we occasionally share a cup of coffee over conversation.

These are pleasant acquaintances but they are not true friends. They listen to us, perhaps sympathize with us, but there is little empathy. We meet, we greet and we go on our respective ways.

In our Jewish tradition, the words of Joshua ben Perachya, an imminent Tanna of the first and second centuries BCE and who once served as the nasi (president) of the Sanhedrin, were expressed in his most well-known maxim: “Aseh l’cha rav u’knai l’cha chaver”. Provide yourself with a teacher and find for yourself a companion.

In modern Hebrew literature that thought is clearly expressed in Tchernichovsky’s Credo, “Ani Maamin”, I Believe.

“Laugh at all my dreams, my dearest, I, the Dreamer, tell you true
That I still believe in mankind as I still believe in you.
Laugh, for I believe in friendship, and in one I still believe,
One whose heart shall beat with my heart and with mine rejoice and grieve”.

The essence of true friendship is revealed in the love between David and Jonathan. David wept and mourned at the death of his beloved friend.

Friendship is clearly expressed in biblical and rabbinic literature throughout the centuries. One particular maxim has been the guiding philosophy of the years of my life. The Talmud informs us, “o chevruta o mituta”… give me friendship or give me death. For a life without true friends is not a life.

In 1951 while wandering on the dunes in Beersheba, an army truck drove by and a soldier signaled me to jump on board. At the military canteen he bought me a cup of Turkish coffee, very bitter, but the lifelong friendship from that cup of coffee brought sweetness into our lives for six decades.
I cannot think of life without true and faithful friends and companions. One can never have too many of them.

Recently I’ve been reading the writings of an American born Jerusalemite… brilliant writings which coincide with many of my own thoughts. I felt that he and I could have much in common and I expressed a hope that we could establish a friendship, a genuine companionship. My messages to him remain unanswered. Perhaps he has many friends and has no need to admit a stranger into his circle of friends.

Yet I believe, in Tchernichovsky’s words : ‘Laugh, for I believe in friendship and in one I still believe, one whose heart shall beat with my heart and with mine rejoice and grieve”.

Many pleasant acquaintances. Too few true and understanding friends. Chaval m’od. What a pity.

About the Author
Esor Ben-Sorek is a retired professor of Hebrew, Biblical literature & history of Israel. Conversant in 8 languages: Hebrew, Yiddish, English, French, German, Spanish, Polish & Dutch. Very proud of being an Israeli citizen. A follower of Trumpeldor & Jabotinsky & Begin.
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