Jewish Value of the Week: Friendship, Chaverut
Friendship — Chaverut — helps us to become the best person we can be. We learn from, through and with our friends.
The rabbis took this idea seriously, and insisted that study be done in pairs called chevruta, because they knew this was the best way to learn. It says in Pirke Avot (1:6), “Acquire for yourself a friend.” We can have many people with whom we spend time, but a true friend is unique. A true friend is a partner.
In one story, a rabbi asked his students how they could tell when night had ended and the day had begun. One said, “When you see an animal in the distance and can tell if it is a horse or a cow.” “No,” said the master. Another said, “When you look at a tree in the distance and can tell if it is fig tree or a peach tree.” “Wrong again,” said the master. “Then when?” the students asked. And the master replied, “When you look at the face of a man or woman and see that he is your friend. For, if you cannot do this, then no matter what time it is by the sun, it is still night.”
Rabbi Wayne Dosick writes, “In every friendship, you can see and reflect a vision of hope for the entire world: The time when billions of individual people will seek each other in kinship and friendship, and weave a multihued fabric of respect, good will, and affection.”
Family Talk Time
- What does it mean to be a friend? Talk about your friends and why each one is special to you.
- Have you ever been “left out” by friends? How does it feel? Have you ever not included someone else?
- How can you be a friend to yourself? Why is this important?
- Talk about the meaning of this special song: “Don’t walk in front of me, I may not follow. Don’t walk behind me, I may not lead. Just walk beside me and be my friend, and together we will walk in the ways of Hashem.”
Many Jewish prayers are written using a form called an acrostic. The rabbis took a special word and each letter of the word was the first letter of each sentence. Write an acrostic poem with the word “friend.”
A Story for Shabbat: ‘Why Did I Ask?’
— from ‘Brainteasers From Jewish Folklore’ by Rosalind Chaney Kaye
Mendel the shoemaker was working quietly at his cobbler’s bench when who should burst in but the Emperor Napoleon! “Save me,” the emperor screamed in panic. “They’re going to kill me.”
The good-hearted shoemaker hid Napoleon in his bed under a pile of old quilts, just as three enemy soldiers stormed into the room. They pierced their swords into everything, including the quilts on the bed, but found nothing and left.
Miraculously unharmed, Napoleon granted Mendel one wish as a reward for saving his life. Mendel was perplexed, since he was basically happy and had everything he needed. Finally, he asked Napoleon, “Tell me, if you don’t mind, how you felt when the soldiers poked their swords into the quilts?”
Suddenly Napoleon turned red. He ordered his troops to tie the terrified shoemaker to a tree and shoot him.
“Ready!” The soldiers lifted their guns.
“Aim!” The soldiers aimed. Mendel said his last prayers.
“But the emperor didn’t say “Fire!” What did he say?
“Now you know how I felt!”
Laura Seymour is director of camping services and Jewish life and learning at the Jewish Community Center of Dallas.