A friend in need

A friend is a single soul dwelling in two bodies- Aristotle.

Rabbi Dr. Eliyahu Safran

Judaism Torah scroll (illustration)
Torah scroll (illustration)
צילום: INN:RS

Picture the scene, a man, newly circumcised; just three days out from a painful procedure and still newly convalescing.  He is not only extremely uncomfortable but he is no “spring chicken” – he is, in fact, elderly.  So we have an old man, weakened and in pain, sitting before his tent when our parasha opens, “Vayeirah eilav Hashem b’Elonei Mamre…”  And Hashem appeared before him in the plains of Mamre.

What a curious opening, “…appeared before him…”  Before whom?  There is no antecedent, no name for us to know who God appeared before.  No name.  Nothing.  Just the impersonal, “him.”

Who, a thoughtful reader might ask, is “him”?

We know, from our larger context of Torah narrative, that the “him” is none other than Abraham, Avraham avinu.  Only this is no longer the Abraham we have come to know, no longer the Avram called to turn his back on the land of his birth and his family and to set out on a journey whose purpose would only be revealed as it unfolded; no longer merely a man of stature and wealth.  

The Abraham we meet here is now on a higher level; this is the man who will now assume the mantle of the spiritual father of all mankind, the man who – a mere three days after circumcision, – was weakened and in physical pain nonetheless was anxious to extend himself to others!  He was proactively seeking the opportunity to perform an act of chesed.   

What?  Not wanting to just roll over in bed and groan through his discomfort like most of us would want to do?  No, Abraham sought an opportunity to perform chesed for, after all, what is life without chesed?

And so our parasha scene opens with God coming to visit him, to acknowledge this new Abraham and to honor him and reveal that this man is the “real deal”.

The Or HaChaim sees in this engagement a fundamental Torah lesson, that when people carry out great deeds, God reveals Himself to them as a token of tribute; that is, when man does good, God wants it to be recognized and acknowledged.  And so God comes to Mamre to visit His friend, as so many of us do when a friend is recuperating.  In doing so, God is letting it be known that he has become a “chariot of the Divine Presence.”
In Abraham’s tent, a home of extraordinary chesed, God is comfortable.  Even more, He wants everyone to know that He is comfortable in such a setting.  God is saying, “This man is my friend.  This man is a man I like to be with.”

Okay, but if this is the case, why not say, Vayeira al Avraham…?  Why not say, God appeared to Abraham?  Why, “to him”?  Even more, in this visit, God does not seem to revealing a message to Abraham, unlike other instances of God’s revelation to Abraham when He communicates very specific messages.  

In this “non-specificity” we find the depth of this wonderful relationship between God and Abraham, this friendship and, in fact, friendship in general.  Unlike so much in our world, in which nearly every engagement between people is transactional, a quid pro quo, an extension of business – with a specific goal or aim – communication between genuine friends is not transactional at all.  There are no specifics because there is no need for them.

As Rabbi Soloveitchik suggests, when two individuals are close friends, “…sharing a sense of intimacy and companionship, one need not have a message to deliver in order to walk into the other's house. The highest form of friendship requires no words.”

And so we see in this parasha.  Until this point, there was formality between God and Abraham.  It was not yet a friendship.  There was a clear “Master/Servant” quality to their relationship.  In this relationship, there was “vayomer” – God spoke.  There were statements, commands, formalities.  But now, with Abraham’s circumcision and their divine covenant, their bris, established for all time, there was a new intimacy, a friendship.  In this friendship there was no longer any need for words, for a formal message.  It is “you and me”.  

It is personal.  It is not “business.”

As Rabbi Soloveitchik  went on, “As long as the relationship is a formal one, it is guided by the rules of courtesy. Formality requires mentioning the name. But when we visit a friend, there is no need for the name.”

What a wonderful thing, for Abraham and God to share a friendship!  But how much more wonderful to realize that this friendship need not be unique to just Abraham; God would like nothing more than to have this relationship with all of us!

The Meor Einaim teaches that God seeks the friendship of every one of His children, so long as we allow Him in.  How do we allow God in?  How do we engage God so that our relationship is personal and not transactional?

By performing chesed.  

In performing acts of chesed, Avraham Avinu demonstrated by example how we are to behave in the world, how loving-kindness is to imbue our actions and behavior each day of our lives, how our behavior not only invites God into that relationship but makes clear to others that we have that relationship with God.  Rav Moseh of Kobrin, taught that, “A day that a Jew does not do a kindness is not considered a day in his life.”   

Such a sentiment suggests that, like Avraham Avinu, it is not enough to passively not do the wrong thing; rather, it is necessary to proactively seek out opportunities to do the right thing.  That is, we are not to sit before our tents until strangers come to us but we are to run from before our tents to find ways to demonstrate our loving-kindness.   It is, after all, as essential to a Jewish life as eating and praying.  

And, if we are to demonstrate such acts of kindness to the stranger, how much more to our friends, who are so dear to us that we do not need words to describe or share that closeness?

* * *

The question we often ask ourselves is, Would God actually want to be my friend?  We often see God as the mighty, driving force in the world; the One who commands.  But the One who seeks a personal relationship with us?

The things we often look for in life are, not surprisingly, the very things we end up seeing. If we “see” it as possible, it can be.  Living with a greater awareness of God brings Him so much closer.  

So often, we recognize God in the transcendental – the beautiful symphony, the majestic sky streaked with the reds of evening, the brilliant forests or the ocean’s mighty waves.  But like a friend who visits not on special occasions but at any time, for a cup of tea, a moment to kibbitz, a pat on the back, we can recognize God in the daily miracles of our lives.

It is said that when we make Hamotzi we shake the foundations of the universe.  A simple blessing, shaking the foundations of creation?  Of course.  

Sincere blessings of an everyday Jew, a simple act of chesed, can send ripples through creation.  

The more we proactively seek God, the more He reaches out to us.  God is waiting for us, to engage in that personal relationship, that friendship.
If the question is, Would God want to be my friend?  The answer is, Yes!

Veyeirah eilav Hashem

With God, friendship is not business.  It’s personal.