Torah Tuesdays

Torah Tuesdays: Choose who you become

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This is a woodcut of Koheles, somehow...

I’d like to thank my toddler for napping and my baby for entertaining himself, which is how I had time to write today’s Torah Tuesdays post.  Boys, you’re the best!

I was looking at some notes I took from a class on Koheles  (Ecclesiastes) that I took with Rebetzin Heller, back in the day when I was in seminary.   Today’s post is taken from the notes on chapter four, verse nine:

Two is better than one.  Rashi says that everything is better to be done with two than with one.  This leads to the saying from Pirkei Avos that you should “buy” a friend for yourself.

What?  Buy a friend how?  What kind of friend would that be anyways?

“Buy” can mean to serve them nicely, and treat them well in a physical sense (like making them a latte, or buying them chocolate).  Or, spiritually, you give them what they need.

Note:  This may not be what you want to give.  For example, maybe you’re a really good listener, and you know someone who needs a sympathetic ear.  You may not want to hear that person’s woes, but that may be your purpose in the relationship at that time.

Who should be your friend?  It’s worthwhile to be selective when making these choices.  Why?  Because you become who your friend is.  That is, you will be influenced by who you spend time with.

In part, this is because we all seek approval on some level.  Most people will act a little like a chameleon to become more like who they are around (and therefore, by being like them, they will like you).  However, if you keep the laws of Ahavas Reim (that’s loving your neighbor, folks), people will like you without you having to compromise your personality.

For instance, if you speak well of others, you’ll see their good points.  Doesn’t that sound nice?  Instead of dwelling on the annoying parts of other people, be a mentsch and mention their positive attribute.  You’d want someone else to do the same for you, yes (and we’re back to that golden rule)?

Rebbetzin Heller went on to state that the camouflage we put on to be more like those we admire is not bad.  However, it’s necessary to have boundaries, to be honest with yourself about who you are.  It’s fine to strive to grow to become more like your role models, but it’s just as important to be realistic about how much you can stretch yourself at any given time.

And so, since who we spend our time with affects who we are ourselves, by picking our friends, we can choose who we want to become.  The perfect friend is the one who can keep you straight.  The one who will tell you when you’re not being true to yourself (or when you have spinach in your teeth, that’s very important, too).

So, the next time you’re spending time with your friends, ask yourself  “Am I being my friend, or am I being myself?”  And see if you are on the way to becoming who you want to be.

11 thoughts on “Torah Tuesdays: Choose who you become

  1. I LOVE this post! It’s so true. I sometimes find myself taking on the speech patterns of friends I’m spending a lot of time with! It’s easy to fall into “oh we’ll be friends b/c we live in the same neighborhood, our kids are friends, etc.” When really, we should take a lot of care in picking our friends.

  2. I cannot tell you how timely this post is! In fact, I saw your post in my Reader earlier today, but waited until this evening to read it when I could fully reflect. And irony of ironies, right before I read this, I got two messages from a “friend” who is emotionally draining to me. She is a taker more than a giver, and have come to terms with the fact that I don’t really even like her much, or like myself when I’m with her. So imagine me reading those two messages, getting totally annoyed, and then reading your Torah Tuesday post. It really helped me this evening. Thank you – and thank G-d for the timely message!

  3. Sindy – I do the same thing! And sometimes I feel like I can’t turn it off. Whoa. This is also something I’m going to keep in mind when we settle in B-more.

    SIR – thanks so much!

    Leah – Wow! What timing! Good luck with your “friend.” May G-d give you the strength you need to handle the situation.

  4. Thanks for sharing! I’ve always wondered at that verse in Pirkei Avot and the one close to it: ‘Aseh lecha Rav’. I wonder what the difference is between buying/acquiring a friend and making for yourself a teacher. I guess it reveals something about the difference in the relationship dynamic. Friends are peers; contracted through an equal transaction. Teachers are not peers; they are people at whose feet (figuratively) you sit to drink in words of wisdom (not without a critical mind, of course!).

    Maybe the ‘buying’ of a friend reflects this necessary egalitarianism in the friendship relationship. You both have to invest: the friend in the ‘product’ of friendship that he/she is ‘selling’ and you have to invest in the currency of friendship with which you are ‘buying’. But in essence, it is about a dynamic of equality and negotiation. Two important aspects of friendship, I think!

    (But what if we look at kuf-nun-hey as meaning to ‘make’ in the Divine sense, just like God is ‘Koneh Shamayim v’Aretz’? Wow, there’s another d’var Torah in there! :))


    This Good Life

  5. This is a GREAT post. It’s so true!
    I love the comparison to the chameleon but one always must ask themselves – am I changing too much and trying to be like someone I am not? That’s where individuality kicks in.

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