We all know the expression “a friend in need is a friend indeed.” Here is a bit of a different slant.
This past Sunday Steve and I attended a small gathering at the home of a rabbinic colleague in New Jersey for a send-off, if you will, for one of our colleagues who is loved and respected by all of us, Rabbi Jeffrey K. Salkin, who, along with his wife Sheila, will be moving to Hollywood, FL this August. At that time he will assume the pulpit of Temple Solel. Rabbi Salkin, of course, came to teach us at Union Temple last year during one of our Fourth Friday programs on his midrash on Abraham and his generation from his book, “The Gods Are Broken.”
As he thanked us all for being there and for our ongoing friendship over the years, Rabbi Salkin brought us a little teaching from the Rambam, Moses Maimonides, about friendship. He reminded us that the Rambam outlined different kinds of friendship. Rabbi Salkin pointed to two in particular. One is the chaver l’davar – the utilitarian friend, if you will – the friend who befriends you because he/she needs something from you. The other is the chaver lid’agah – the stalwart friend; the true friend – the friend who is there for you in good times and in bad, and sincerely cares about you and your life. When Rabbi Salkin looked around the room at those of us assembled there, he remarked that all of us, both individually and as a k’vutzah, a group, have been for him all through the years as chaverim lid’agah – true and stalwart friends.
In our Torah portion this week, we find the trouble-maker Korach trying to foment rebellion against Moses. He befriends Datan and Aviram, and other members of the Israelite community, for the purpose of enlisting their help in usurping the divinely-appointed authority and leadership of Moses and Aaron. Korach was a chaver l’davar – a friend who needed something, and manipulated other people to get it. As we read in last week’s portion, however, Joshua is a shining example of a chaver lid’agah – a stalwart friend to Moses, and helped him in the task that had been placed upon him by trying to buoy the Israelites’ spirits and personal courage. In the end, because of their guile and motivations of self-aggrandizement, Korach and his rebels destroyed themselves, and a number of other people along with them. But Joshua and his comrades ultimately marched into the Promised Land to realize the destiny that God had appointed for our people.
I’m glad to say that those of us in the Rabbinic community are never completely removed from one another, even by miles. Steve and I will have the pleasure of continuing to study with Rabbi Salkin – Jeff – this July at the Hartman Institute, where he also has been a “regular” over many years. And of course, we will see him at meetings and conventions, and whenever he comes back to New York for any reason (since he grew up on Long Island, and has family here). And, as we all know, the Internet brings ALL of us closer, virtually every minute of every day! But at this moment I am grateful that he took those few moments to remind us, his circle of friends and study partners (in Jewish circles, often one and the same), about the aspirations of true friendship within the Jewish tradition.
So what kind of friends do we want to be, and indeed, ought we aspire to be: chaverim l’davar, friends only when we need something from someone, or chaverim lid’agah, friends who will be there for each other, no matter what? It is an important question for all of us.