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Rabbi Doniel Staum - Parshas Vayeshev 5775 "A True Friend"
by Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW

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“A friend is someone who sees the first tear, catches the second, and stops the third.” (unknown)

A colleague once related to me the following poignant thought: “True friendship is achieved when one friend is willing to give up the friendship for the sake of the other friend.” He explained his statement by relating the following personal anecdote:

“When I was a student in yeshiva years ago, I had a close friend who was struggling with certain personal issues. We spoke often and I realized that, although I was unable to help him deal with his issues, the yeshiva’s Mashgiach[1] would be able to help him. When I suggested to my friend that he speak with the Mashgiach he adamantly refused and - knowing me well - he warned me that if I went to the Mashgiach on his behalf he would be very angry with me, and he would terminate our friendship. At that point, I was unsure how to proceed. On the one hand, I had a way to help my friend and he really needed the help. But on the other hand, if I helped him I would lose the friendship which I so cherished.

I finally decided that I couldn’t watch my friend stumble when I had the ability to help him. I cared about him enough that I was willing to forfeit the friendship so that he could get the guidance he needed. I approached the Mashgiach on behalf of my friend and it wasn’t long before the Mashgiach summoned my friend to his office.”

My colleague concluded, “In the end, the Mashgiach was able to help him as I thought he would. Today that friend and I are extremely close, probably closer than we would have been had that event not occurred. But I must reiterate that even if I would have lost him as a friend, I still believe that it was my responsibility – as a friend- to help him.”

The debacle of Yosef was well underway. As per the suggestion of Yehuda, the brothers sold Yosef to a passing caravan, essentially eliminating him from their lives. When Yosef did not return Yaakov was brokenhearted, convinced that his beloved Yosef had been ravaged by a ferocious beast. Yaakov refused to be consoled and would not desist in his mourning. When the brothers realized the ramifications of what they had done they deposed Yehuda from his position of leadership.

“It was at that time that Yehuda went down from his brothers and turned toward an Adullamite man whose name was Chirah.”[2] The Torah continues by detailing the challenges that Yehuda faced in his self-imposed exile from his family. Two of his sons married and died soon after, and then his own wife died as well. Yehuda was left a widower with one remaining son. “…When Yehuda was consoled, he went up to oversee his sheepshearers – he and his Adullamite friend, Chirah…” [3]

The Torah relates that as Yehuda was traveling he met a woman who was dressed like an ‘illicit woman’. Yehuda was unaware that the woman was Tamar, his former daughter-in-law and he desired to have a relationship with her[4]. He pledged to compensate her with a goat and he offered her his signet, wrap, and staff as collateral. Afterwards, when Yehuda sought to fulfill his pledge “Yehuda sent the kid of the goats through his friend, the Adullamite, to retrieve the pledge from the woman; but he did not find her.”[5] Begrudgingly, Yehuda told his friend to give up the search.

There is a noted principle espoused by Rabbi Tzadok Hakohain of Lublin that the first time a concept is mentioned in the Torah, therein lies its definitive essence and true meaning.

It is in regards to this incident with Yehuda that the Torah introduces the concept of friendship. In fact, Yehuda’s friend Chirah is mentioned twice as his friend, the Adullamite (the second time the verse doesn’t even say his name, only that he was “his friend the Adullamite”). What was the significance of their friendship and how did their camaraderie represent true friendship?

Sha’arei Orah[6] explains that friendship is built primarily on a sense of trust and security. The true test of a friendship is when one is able to reveal something extremely personal and confidential to his friend without it having any negative bearing on the friendship.

This is essentially what occurred with Yehuda. At the beginning of its narrative the Torah relates that Yehuda met Chirah and engaged in business ventures with him. The Torah then relates the enigmatic events that occurred in Yehuda’s private life, and that Yehuda sent the compensation with “Chirah, his friend the Adullamite”. Yehuda obviously had to reveal to Chirah what had occurred and why he was sending payment to an ‘illicit woman’. Yet, Chirah was still called, “his friend the Adullamite.” Despite what Chirah now knew about his distinguished friend, the friendship was not diminished whatsoever.

The Rambam[7] explains the concept of friendship in a similar vein: “Acquire for yourself a friend, that he should be beloved to you so that you would trust your soul with him; you should not need to guard yourself (when you are with him) not in word or action; you should be able to reveal to him all of your endeavors – the good and the degrading, without fear that it will cause a deficiency in the friendship.”

One of the seven benedictions recited during the week-long celebration after a wedding reads, “כשמחך יצירך בגן עדן מקדם שמח תשמח רעים אהובים - Make exceedingly joyful the friends who are beloved, just as You gladdened Your creation (Adam, i.e. by creating Chava) in the Garden of Eden in days of old. Blessed are You, G-d, Who gladdens groom and bride.”

We bless and pray that the newlyweds reach the ultimate level of matrimonial bliss, which is achieved when the marriage is built on true friendship.

A man once approached the Chazon Ish, Rabbi Avrohom Yeshaya Karelitz zt’l. The man cried that when he married his wife he was sure that she deeply respected Torah learning and that she would absolve him from household responsibilities so that he could fully devote himself to his studies. But alas, she was constantly badgering him to help her with household responsibilities. He was upset about his Torah learning which he felt was now being diminished, and that his wife was not the person he originally thought she was.

The Chazon Ish listened patiently and smiled. The man was shocked; it was highly uncharacteristic for the sensitive and saintly Chazon Ish to smile at someone else’s tale of woe. The Chazon Ish explained, “It is possible for a person to fool everyone around him, but there are two who cannot be fooled – G-d and his wife. One’s spouse understands a person like no one else. If your wife is asking you to assist her it’s not because she doesn’t value your learning. She has a keen awareness of the intensity with which you apply to your studies, and she obviously detects a slackening. She was willing to forgo your participation in household activities so that you could study, not so that you could be unproductive. Strengthen your Torah learning and you will see that your wife truly values Torah learning and will indeed stop asking for your help.”[8]

When one is dating and throughout the process of engagement, there is a great deal about one’s fiancée that is vague and unclear. But after marriage, every aspect of a person’s personality and character slowly becomes apparent. The goal of an optimal marriage is for both spouses to accept each other for who they are and to compliment each other physically, emotionally, and spiritually. That is a marriage composed of, “Friends who are beloved”.

The verse[9], “Love your friend as yourself” is well-known. Rashi has a novel interpretation of the “friend” which the Torah refers to. On the verse “Your friend and the friend of your father do not forsake,”[10] Rashi comments, “Your friend is G-d Who is called the ‘friend of Israel’, and the Friend of your fathers because He loved your fathers.”

According to Rabbi Bergman’s definition of friendship, it is understandable why G-d is our truest friend. We are constantly beseeching G-d to forgive us and to help us grow and to serve Him better. Yet despite our repeated iniquities, G-d continues to love us unequivocally and pardons us over and over. No matter how low we fall our connection with G-d is never severed. That’s a real friend!

Each Jewish holiday celebrates and joyfully reminds us of a different aspect of that “Divine Friendship.” The holiday of Chanukah celebrates one of the most dynamic components of that relationship. It was a time of austere persecution, when the observant few felt forsaken and forlorn. It was in that melancholic gloom that G-d performed the miracles of Chanukah which signified His Omnipresence even at times when His Mighty Hand is concealed.

Chanukah symbolizes that even in the most ominous moments of life, when we feel abandoned and alone, our “Friend” is still with us. The little Chanukah candles symbolize - and are a testament of - that eternal bond.

In the unique prayer “Al Hanisim” recited on Chanukah we thank G-d, “For the miracles, for the salvation, for the mighty deeds, and for the battles, which You preformed for our forefathers, in those days at this time.” We thank G-d for His eternal Friendship which the holiday symbolizes. It is for that Friendship which the holiday was enacted, as the prayer concludes, “They established these eight days of Chanukah, to express thanks and praise to Your Great Name.”

This is also why Rambam[11] writes, “מצות נר חנוכה מצוה חביבה היא עד מאד - The Chanukah candles are very very dear.” The Chanukah candles are “very very dear” because they symbolize a friendship which is “very very dear”.

I conclude with one of my favorite quotes[12]: “A true friend is someone who really knows you… and likes you anyway!”

“Yehuda… and his Adullamite friend, Chirah”

“Your friend and the friend of your father do not forsake”

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[1] Mashgiach means overseer/watcher. The Mashgiach in a Yeshiva is responsible for the general well-being of the students beyond the academic sphere- physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

[2] Bereishis 38:1

[3] 38:12

[4] The Medrash (Bereishis Rabbah 85:8) explains that this event was an anomaly in the sense that Yehuda was forced into it. His free choice was temporarily suspended to ensure that the union of Yehuda and Tamar would be consummated. The Davidic dynasty and the Messiah descended from that fateful union.

[5] 38:20

[6] Harav Tzvi Meir Bergman shlita, son-in-law of Rav Shach zt’l

[7] Peirush Mishnayos, Avos (1:6). Some of the beauty of the Rambam’s diction gets lost in the translation.

[8] Story quoted in Bayis Umenucha from Rav Moshe Aharon Stern zt’l

[9] Vayikra (19:18)

[10] Mishlei 27:10

[11] Hilchos Chanukah (1:1)

[12] Attributed to Elbert Hubbard (1856-1915), American writer, author, and philosopher

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