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by Rabbi David Zauderer    
Torah from Dixie Staff Writer    

What are friends for? Permit me to share with you a quote from Stephen Ambrose in his book, "Comrades": "Friendships are different from all other relationships. Unlike acquaintanceship, friendship is based on love.



What are friends for? Permit me to share with you a quote from Stephen Ambrose in his book, "Comrades": "Friendships are different from all other relationships. Unlike acquaintanceship, friendship is based on love. Unlike lovers and married couples, it is free of jealousy. Unlike children and parents, it knows neither criticism nor resentment. Friendship has no status in law. Business partnerships are based on a contract. So is marriage. Parents are bound by the law. But friendships are freely entered into, freely given, freely exercised."

This is the typical Western view of that most precious of relationships. No strings attached, no criticism, no responsibilityójust be my friend and donít bother me.

Itís very telling that a popular saying in our American culture is: A dog is a manís best friend. The dog may bark at us, but heíll never criticize us. He may smile at us and make us feel good, but heíll never point out our flaws and make us feel like we need to change. Basically, our relationship with our dog is hassle-free, and thatís why itís our best friend.

Permit me to illustrate this point with a very strange story recorded in this weekís Torah portion. Abraham and Sarah, like all good Jewish parents after them, were getting worried about their son, Isaac. He was already pushing 40 with no good marriage prospects in sight. So they decided to send their trusted servant Eliezer to find them a daughter-in-law from their old hometown. Eliezer travels the distance, and when he approaches the watering hole outside town, he makes the following prayer to the Almighty: "When I approach the well to get a drink, if a young girl shall offer me fresh water from her pitcher, and, without my asking, also offer to draw more water to quench the thirst of all my camelsóshe is the one who is fitting to marry into the illustrious family of Abraham and Sarah. So, please, G-d, help me be successful in finding the right girl."

Well, to make a long story short, along comes Rebeccah and offers Eliezer and his camels plenty of water to drink, and she then consents to travel back to Canaan with Eliezer in order to marry Isaac.

What an unbelievable story! I mean, would you pick a spouse for a lifetime just because you bumped into her at a bar, and she offered you a drink and even filled up your car with gas??!! Letís get real!

The truth is that we are being taught a very valuable lesson here in what it means to be a true friend. You see, in Judaism, itís not the dog thatís your best friendóitís your spouse. The Talmud tells us that when the Torah writes, "Love your friend as you love yourself", it is referring to your spouse, your true best friend.

Who Eliezer was looking for as an appropriate wife for Isaac, was someone who had an exquisite sensitivity to the needs of others, like a true friend should. Because the very core of a good husband/wife relationship is that they be each otherís best friend. Isaacís wife must be a person who will not only respond to her husbandís request for help, but will anticipate his unspoken needs and respond to them. And when Rebeccah not only gave Eliezer to drink, but anticipated the need he had to water the camelsówithout his askingóhe knew that she possessed the sensitivity thatís so basic to a good relationship.

Friends, in the Torah view, are not only there to anticipate and respond to our physical and emotional needs, but to respond to our spiritual needs as well. Which means that we might sometimes hear constructive criticism or good advice from our spouse or friend, if he/she really cares about us. If our friends wonít spur us on to become better human beings through their kind words and sensitively presented advice and criticism, then who will? Thatís what friends are really for! And thatís also why good friends are so hard to come by.

If I had to wax poetic, I guess I would say that, "On the sea of life, the friendships that we enjoy are not just there for a pleasant cruise, they sometimes serve as lifeboats when we need them most."


Rabbi David Zauderer is a card-carrying member of the Atlanta Scholars Kollel.

You are invited to read more Parshat Chayei Sarah articles.

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