2010-12-03 / Columnists

Point of View

Rabbi Allan Blaine
Temple Beth-El, Rockaway Park

“The Rabbi’s Personal Column” “The Rabbi’s Personal Column” There is a Talmudic Aphorism - Give me friendship or give me death. The Rabbis, perhaps in hyperbolic fashion, were expressing the value of friendship.

Friendship from Biblical times to the present time is more than affection. It involves mutual interest, frankness, self-revelation, taking a friend’s criticism as an expression of admiration, or self-sacrifice for a friend. Casual acquaintances are not friends. Genuine true friendship takes time, takes effort and certainly takes work.

As William J. Bennett has said, “Parents know how crucial the choice of friends is for every child. Childhood friendships tell parents which way their children are tending because good friends can bring you up and bad friends can bring you down. Also it may surprise us to know that it matters to our children who are own friends are. One of our tasks is to teach our children to recognize counterfeit friendship, superficial friendship, false friendship and to realize that in many cases they can be injurious.

Having friends is half the battle. Being friends is more important to our moral development. In our society people sometimes speak disparagingly of in-laws. The mother-in-law jokes abound. But the Bible reminds us centuries ago of the greatness of the friendship between Ruth and her motherin law Naomi which was one of unadulterated love and devotion. Both Ruth’s husband and father-in-law died young in the land of Moab. Naomi, her mother-in-law, decides to go back to the land of her ancestors, to her family in Israel and she adjures her daughter-in-law Ruth who is the daughter of a king of Moab to stay behind and make a life for herself. Ruth responds to Naomi in words which have become immortal and eternal, “Enthreat me not to leave thee or to return from following after thee, for where thou goest I shall go and where thou lodgest I shall lodge, thy people shall be my people and thy God my God.

Here is true friendship, love, devotion.

We have completed a bruising election a month ago. Politicians virtually at each others throats, with all kinds of name-calling and vituperative accusations. Perhaps we ought to go back two hundred and fifty years ago and learn from Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, founders of our country, and both Presidents. Four and a half months before he died Thomas Jefferson wrote to his friend of fifty years, James Madison. They had not always agreed – they were politicians, they had participated in bruising elections and battles, yet they remained great friends – both had served their country nobly and remained friends till death. Jefferson in his letter said, “the friendship which has subsisted between us for a half of a century has been a source of constant happiness through that long period.” A week later James Madison, aging and ill himself took time to write back, “You cannot look back to the long period of our private friendship with more affecting recollection than I do. If they are a source of pleasure to you what aught they not be to me.”

What happened on election day? In some parts of the country a friendship was torn asunder. There is supposed to be a relationship between the elected and the electors – we see our leaders whom we vote for as, “friends” who represent our interest, who we know for many years, who feel our angst, who empathize with our needs – friends in deed and also in time of need. When we lose our jobs, our future and even little things like expediting passports and helping with parking tickets and communicating with the Sanitation Department we call our elected leaders. When we find that this friendship is betrayed then in our minds these former friends become false friends, and counterfeit friends. When we feel rightly or wrongly that our friends in elected office don’t listen to us, don’t hear us, ignore us, don’t represent our needs – this then becomes in our minds bad friendships. Some have interpreted the startling electoral vote in this way.

Nations also develop friendships. The history of the Anglo-Saxon relationship between England and the United States is exemplary. When England was about to fall to Hitler, we saved England and the world and entered into the war losing countless numbers of the flower of our youth.

We began as enemies in the 17th century to become constant friends and rescuers. It was a friendship developed between the leaders of our countries. Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill representing the common bonds, and the mutual interest of two freedom loving, democratic peoples.

Friendship, fidelity and trust in family life, among nations, between the governed and those who govern is one of our greatest gifts. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

This monthly column continues with thanks to an anonymous donor.

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