Sunday, August 9, 2020 -
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ON YOM Kippur, G-d does not, because He cannot, unilaterally absolve one of sins committed against people. If I dislike someone, or have been wronged by someone — or have myself wronged someone — I myself need to straighten this out before Yom Kippur.

G-d’s forgiveness is built on restored human relationships.

This is well known.

Is it, however, ideal?

Isn’t it a low bar to say that going into the holiest season of the year, the best I should strive for is to purge the negative — to make sure that someone else no longer dislikes me, and vice-versa?

In putting interpersonal relationships at the center of preparation for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, what kind of relationships are those that merely remove sticking points?

Is there not something higher we should strive for? Shouldn’t we set a higher bar?

The question is rarely asked because the relevant relationship is rarely addressed in a religious context: friendship.

What is a “good friend” thought to be? The risk is to focus on the negative. Answers typically run like this:

If someone is in trouble, I am there. If someone is ill, I make a hospital visit, or arrange for medical care or meals, or take care of the children.

This is surely a good friend, but notice: It all flows from the negative. When someone else is hurting, I step in.

Another example. If someone is in financial trouble, I cover some bills or lend money, offer a reference to a bank or find my friend a job training program. These are all true acts of friendship, but here too they flow from the negative. Someone is hurting, so I take action.

Isn’t there a higher level of friendship — a higher bar for the High Holidays?

SHLOMO CARLEBBACH suggests that the highest — the most difficult — form of friendship is this: Truly to rejoice in another person’s good fortune.

Sounds easy.

But consider these real-life scenarios:

My friend and I applied to medical school. He got in. I did not.

My friend made a ton of money and lives very well. I’m just paying the bills.

My friend is famous; he wrote “the” book. I’m still struggling to get a few stories published.

Back in our younger days, I was the much better student. Now, 20 years later, his practice is highly successful. Mine is not.

My friend’s kids shine; mine, not so much.

Can I truly rejoice in my friend’s admission to medical school, his wealth, or his professional or personal success?

It is one thing to be a friend to someone who is down. Can I be a friend when someone is up?

This, not just to be free of envy, is the ultimate test of friendship.

If I truly feel, “I don’t begrudge my friend his financial success,” that does not qualify. It is a high spiritual level, of course, not to be envious of another person’s success. It is not easy to free oneself of envy. But again, note the negative: not to be envious.

The fact is that there is no one, now matter how wealthy or accomplished, who does not have less than someone else; and there is no one, no matter how poor or indistinguished, who does not have more than someone else. So the temptations of envy and the challenge of true friendship are universal.

Truly to rejoice in someone else’s good fortune is the rarer achievement and the higher level. It is positive, a worthy focus for the High Holidays.

HAVE WE gone from one extreme — a low bar of ridding one’s life of conflicts — to another — a high bar of love for others and their successes?

If the bar of love is said to be too high, and if one prays even once out of the Jewish prayer book (siddur), then one has made a liar and a hypocrite out of oneself.

Consider: In the siddur, one asks for, and is asked for . . . love. Up and down the siddur, the phrase “with love” (be-ahavah) is ubiquitous.

Are your formal prayers limited to Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kipuur? “With love” fills the High Holiday prayers.

Do you skip prayer altogether and come only for the holiday meals, such as the Passover seder? The kiddush at the beginning of the seder is offered “with love.”

Do you say the Shema? “With love,” not to mention other syntactic forms of the Hebrew word for love, fill the blessing preceding the Shema.

That’s before you even get to And you shall love the L-rd Your G-d with all your heart . . .

The lists extends. The Silent Prayer (Shemoneh Esrei), the Rosh Chodesh prayers, the priestly blessing and still other forms of Jewish prayer cite  G-d’s love for us, our love for G-d and our love for other people.

In Jewish liturgy we are surrounded by love, showered by love.

Not to mention, if we pray every day, or weekly on Shabbos, love punctuates the daily and the Shabbos prayers.

Love is not an excessively high bar. It is a requirement. An atmosphere. An expectation. A reality. An aura. Yes, to rejoice in someone else’s good fortune — to love someone else who has surpassed me in some way — is the highest level of friendship.

It is a prime focus of the High Holidays.

Perhaps the oddest blessing in the Jewish canon is “Blessed are You, L-rd our G-d, King of the Universe, who revives the dead.”

This blessing is recited when one sees a former friend who’s been unknown to you for decades. He or she has dropped off the earth, so to speak; then unexpectedly reappeared. The dead has been revived.

I am told by Yehuda Wurzel — a friend whom I unexpectedly met last month for the first time in decades — that Rebbe Nachman of Breslov observes:

Each person has, or has the potential for, a unique slant on Torah, a unique understanding, that no other person ever had or ever will have. By my being out of contact with a long lost friend, a part of me has died — that part supplied by my friend’s unique Torah teaching. When I suddenly see that person again, it is a part of me that comes back to life. I am the dead person who has been revived.

It’s that level of mutual connection, of friendship, of love one for another, that the High Holidays ask us — and empower us — to realize.

Copyright © 2015 by the Intermountain Jewish News

Hillel Goldberg

IJN Executive Editor |

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