We’ve discussed adult friendships here before. They continue to be a hazy topic for me. I don’t advocate throwing the term around liberally as Facebook would have us do. I subscribe to an ancient but relevant and wise school of thought that begs us to take friendships seriously. Rabbi Noach Weinberg zt’l expounds on this (**see footnote below) in the 48 Ways to Wisdom.
Here’s my recent “saga” that I never imagined possible at my age or stage of life.
There is a woman, I’ll call her Ariella, who I met in my broader global community. I liked her when we met and with time and varied interactions, I came to respect and admire her too. I learned that she is funny, sweet, smart, talented, and down-to-earth. What impressed me most about her was her devotion. She is devoted at all hours of the day and night to everything and everyone. You can call her on her ‘off hours’. You can speak with her and she won’t be too busy. She is supportive with no judgement, honest and truth-seeking, and open to growth. Yes, Ariella is special.
And…after a mere few YEARS, I dare say I felt close to her! Granted, we didn’t spend time together on weekends, spend hours shooting the breeze on the phone, or catch up over coffee but there was a safeness formed between us. She was the person I went to very often when I needed to hash something out or I just needed to feel understood.
Then, something happened. Arguably, the worst thing possible for a relationship.
I allowed myself to have an expectation.
Expectations are poison to relationships and we should ideally never expect anything of anyone. This was taught to me by Rav Yitzchak Berkovits shlita, my husband’s rebbe. I won’t soon forget our classroom filled with outraged women indignant and puzzled by how we could possibly not expect anything out of our closest family members!?
Rav Berkovits just smiled his signature smile and persisted in his contention that the only One we should really lean on was: The One.
At this point, eight years after I heard his words for the first time, I have come to believe that most expectations (I’m not able to say all yet!) are dangerous and even lethal.
But back to Ariella.
A group of women were having a girl’s night out and my name came up. Not in a good way. I’ll leave out the juicy details but Ariella participated in a negative discussion about me. I found out from a couple of women who were there as well and asked Ariella about it. She said that indeed she had participated in the conversation but didn’t mean anything in a malicious way.
My reaction surprised me. I was thoroughly devastated. One of the few people in this world that I had opened myself up to as a confidante and (gasp!) FRIEND had betrayed me.
Ariella didn’t fully share my perspective on the incident because she felt that her intentions weren’t bad but she understood that she had hurt me and apologized.
To be fair, I’m not sure she realized how close I felt to her or how rare it is for me to call someone a friend. Our friendship was far more a reflection of her greatness than an effort made by me.
As you may know (or not!), I pride myself on personal development and I am passionate about inspiring others with Jewish ideals. I so badly wanted to transcend my feelings about what Ariella did. I wish I weren’t so HUMAN sometimes! I didn’t WANT to feel so hurt. I didn’t want to SHOW my hurt but I couldn’t seem to hide it either.
Subsequently, I put some emotional walls up with Ariella and committed to self-protection and not investing what was left of my precious time and energy only to be left embarrassingly wounded.
Ariella was very upset by this response but in her understanding, patient, and supportive way, she waited. (I told you she’s special!)
Then, a few nights ago, at around 2am when my mind was too active to sleep, I finally felt a clarity rush forward. A family friend who recently divorced had shared with me that her expectations of her spouse KILLED her marriage. She expected her husband not to stare at his iPhone (just one example) and to be more involved more with the children. By the end of her marriage, she didn’t recognize the angry, resentful, disappointed person she had become.
This woman opened up my eyes once again to the harm of expectations.
As I lay awake in bed, I had this epiphany. Ariella is a special person and precious to me. She is one of the few people I feel safe with. Yes, I was hurt and don’t agree with what she did but life is short and why would I want to push away a gem of a person and a relationship?
The following day, I contacted Ariella and apologized for taking so long to tell her that.
I felt that all my prayers to lift these feelings of intense hurt were granted and I was gifted with perspective and true forgiveness.
Friendships ARE hazy. They’re tough for me because they demand time and energy (so most relationships are cost prohibitive). But if I stumble upon one that I suspect to be real, I want to hold it dear to me. I aspire to be a good friend, a flexible, forgiving, understanding friend who is willing to get an emotional bruise for a human’s life blood: relationship and connection.
**Excerpt from 48 Ways at Aish.com
There was once a father and son who were discussing the topic of friendship.
The father said, “You know, son, it’s tough to make friends.”
The son said, “What do you mean, Dad? I have lots of friends.” “How many friends do you have,” the father asked?
The son thought for a long while and said, “I’ve counted them up. I must have 200 friends!” (and this is pre-Facebook!)
“200 friends? A young man like you?” said the father. “That’s amazing. I can’t believe it.”
“Why, Dad? How many friends do you have?”
“Me? My whole life I’ve worked really hard at it and I’ve only achieved half a friend.”
“But Dad, everybody likes you. You’re a wonderful man. What are you talking about – only a half a friend? And what is half a friend, anyway?”
“Look son, you have to know whether your friends are really your friends. A friend in need is a friend in deed. Why don’t you test it out and see if your friends are really friends?”
The father had an idea. Being that this story may have taken place during the Roman occupation of Israel, over 2000 years ago, you need to know that the Romans were especially stringent in law and order. If they caught a murderer or a thief, they’d mete out swift and harsh judgment. And they did the same to anyone thought to be an accomplice to the crime. They meant business.
“Here’s what you do,” the father suggested. “A goat’s blood resembles human blood. Take a goat, slaughter it and put it in a sack. Then at night, go to your friends and say, ‘You’ve got to help me. I went to a bar last night and had a little too much to drink. There was a guy there who started insulting me and we got into an argument. He took a swing at me, I took a swing back at him, the fight rolled into the street, and I hit him a little too hard and killed him. Now I’ve got to get rid of the body. Otherwise I’m a dead duck.’ Then ask your friends to help you get rid of the body.”
The son thought it was a great idea and he tried it out. Night after night, he took the sack of goat meat around to all his friends. It took him a couple of weeks and a few goats, but he got through his 200 friends.
As you might guess, not one wanted anything to do with him. They understood that he wasn’t responsible, that the other fellow started the fight, but they didn’t want any part of it.
Finally, the son came back to his father and said, “Dad, I guess you’re right. My friends aren’t such good friends. How about your half-a-friend? Maybe he’ll help.”
The father said, “Sure, try him out. Go to his house, and tell him you’re Chaim’s son. Tell him what happened, and see whether he helps you.”
That night the son knocked at his father’s friend’s door.
“Who’s there?” a frightened voice asked.
“It’s Chaim’s son.”
“Oh, Chaim’s son! Come in. What can I do for you?”
The son told him the whole story about the bar and the fight and the body.
“Well, really, I shouldn’t help you, but what can I do, you’re Chaim’s son?”
He took the boy out in the backyard. They dug a hole and buried the sack.
“Now go back home. Stay out of the bars. If somebody insults you, just keep quiet. But most of all, forget you ever met me.”
The son went back to his father and said, “Dad, why do you call him a half-a-friend? He’s the only one who helped me!”
“What did he say to you?”
“He said, ‘Really I shouldn’t help you, but you’re Chaim’s son, what can I do?'”
“That’s half a friend,” said the father. “Somebody who pauses and says, ‘Really I shouldn’t do this.’ That’s a half a friend.”
“Then Dad, what’s a real friend?”
So, his father told him this next story (cited in Shtei Yados) which will help us answer our last question.
Two young men had grown up together and become very close friends. They were living at a time when the Roman Empire was split into two parts – one half controlled by an emperor in Rome and the other half ruled by an emperor in Syria. After each of the friends married, one moved to Rome and the other moved to Syria. Together they started an import-export business, and though they lived far apart, they remained very close friends.
One time, when the fellow from Rome was visiting in Syria, someone accused him of being a spy for Rome and plotting against the emperor. He was an innocent man – it was just a vicious rumor. So, they brought him to the Syrian Emperor, and he was subsequently sentenced to death.
When he was being led out to his execution, he was asked if he had any last requests. The accused man pleaded: “Please, I’m an innocent man, but I can’t prove it. So, if I’m going to die, at least let me go back to Rome first, settle my affairs, and say goodbye to my family. They don’t know my business, like who owes me money, where all my goods are. Let me just go back to Rome, put my affairs in order, and then I’ll come back and you can execute me.”
The Emperor laughed at him. “What are you, crazy? You think we’d let you go? What possible guarantee will we have that you’re going to come back?”
The Jew said, “Wait. I have a friend here in Syria who will stand in for me. He’ll be my guarantor. If I don’t come back, you can kill him instead.”
The Emperor was intrigued. “This I’ve got to see. Okay, bring in your friend.”
The fellow from Syria was called in. Sure enough, he agreed without hesitation to take the Roman Jew’s place in prison, and to be killed in his stead if the friend did not return.
The Emperor was so startled by this arrangement that he agreed to let the Roman Jew go. “I’ll give you 60 days. Put your affairs in order. If you’re not back by the dawn of the 60th day, your friend is dead.”
Off went the Roman Jew, racing back to his family to say goodbye and to put his affairs in order. After a lot of tears and goodbyes, he started back in plenty of time before the 60 days were up.
These were the days of sailing galleys, and sometimes you could sit for days waiting for the right wind to come up. As luck would have it, there was no wind for several days, the sailboat was delayed, and by the time the Jew arrived in Syria, dawn of the 60th day was breaking.
As agreed, the jailers took out the fellow from Syria for the execution. In those days, an execution was a gala affair, and early in the morning the crowds began to gather. Finally, as they were just about to perform the execution, the fellow from Rome came running in. “Wait! Stop! I’m back. Don’t kill him. I’m the real prisoner!”
The executioner let the fellow from Syria go and was about to take the Jew from Rome in his place. “Wait a minute,” the reprieved guarantor argued. “You can’t kill him. His time limit was up. I’m the guarantor. You’ve got to kill me instead!”
The two friends were equally adamant. “Kill me instead!” “No, kill me!” The executioner didn’t know what to do. The crowd was in an uproar, watching them fight it out.
Finally, the Emperor stepped in. In wonder and amazement, he turned to the two of them and said, “I’ll let both of you go free on one condition. That you make me your third friend!”
That’s friendship. That’s true unity.
That’s why the same verse that says, “Love your neighbor,” also says “I am God.” Unity and friendship among God’s children is so precious that God says, so to speak, “If you love each other, I want to be your third friend.” That means if we’re united, we have the power of God behind us.
Unity is so precious to God that even when we are not as good as we should be, our unity allows us to achieve far more than any one holy, talented, or great individual could possibly achieve alone. In sports, we call it, “teamwork.” Teams with unusual selflessness and chemistry often topple opponents with greater raw skill and power.
In life, we call it “love.”
We see examples of this in Jewish history. Ahab – despite the fact that he was an evil king – was more successful in battle than any other king the Jewish people ever had. Why? Because he benefited from exceptional unity among the Jewish populace. God granted the Jews military success, despite the sinister intentions of their leader. Unity is the quality God wants most for all His children. Simply put, when we are united, God is our “third friend.”
Infighting and strife amongst us is therefore our most insidious and debilitating enemy. Disharmony prevents us from being a predominant force, and reduces us to an impotent collection of self-absorbed individuals.
If we’re united, the Almighty is with us. If we’re divided, we’re on our own.
It’s called, “the power of Love.”