On Making New Friends
by Jonathan Rosenblum
June 24, 2009
At the beginning of parashas Korach, Rabbeinu Bachye links Korach's sin, to the earlier sins of the Generation of Separation and the men of Sdom. Each denied the unity, or interrelatedness, of existence. The Generation of the Separation sought to wage war on Hashem and create an independent kingdom on earth, in which they would establish the rules. The men of Sdom lived according to the credo that each person must be solely responsible for his own fate, neither seeking from nor providing help to others. And Targum Onkelos translates the opening words of the parashah – "And Korach took" – to mean "he separated himself."
Shalom is a name of Hashem. Rabbi Moshe Schapiro explains the difference between a Divine Name and a Divine middah, one of the ways that Hashem manifests Himself in the world. A Divine middah, like Emes (Truth), can be found in the world at some level, not directly related to Hashem.
But a quality expressed in the Divine name has no real existence apart from Hashem. Only to the extent that human beings connect themselves to Hashem does Shalom (peace) become possible. Only then to we experience the essential interconnectedness of being: Each of us needs others and complements others in turn.
Not by accident are the Torah Sages referred to as chaveirim (friends). Only they are capable of the deepest expression of connection (chibur) between one being and another. They are the perfection of that singular friendship each of us requires – the friendship of one who seeks our perfection and gives us the tochachah (reproof) needed to attain it. "Acquire for yourself a friend" (Pirkei Avos1:6), our Sages tell us: Expend whatever it takes to create that unique friendship.
Apart from our need for one close friend, we differ in our friendship needs. There are introverts and extroverts.
But given the interconnectedness of being that Hashem built into the world, we should not be surprised to find that the number and depth of friendships are one of the best predictors of our satisfaction with life and our physical and mental well-being. Friends, statistics show, are even more important to older people than children.
Chazal stress the importance of having friends with whom to share a burden, and modern psychology experiments bear this out. A person standing at the bottom of a steep incline and carrying a heavy backpack, will estimate of the steepness of the incline to be less if a friend is standing with him.
Yet despite the crucial importance of friendships for a fulfilled life, most of us stop making new friends past a certain age, unless something shakes up our routine. And even more sadly, too many of the friendships we do have stop developing. We tend to assume that we know whatever there is to know about those whom we see frequently.
BECAUSE I TRAVEL frequently, I'm always meeting new people. When you stay in someone's house, it is natural for to ask one another lots of exploratory questions. I frequently find myself talking until 2:00 a.m. or later with my hosts. Perhaps because one does not see these people every day, and will likely not see them again for a long time, one finds oneself sharing easily.
After one of these late night marathons, one awakens with a smile on one's face. Just knowing that you can still make a new friend and connect to someone else at a deep level makes you feel young. It reminds us of that moment, decades earlier, when it suddenly hit you in the middle of a date that you had met your life partner.
I have not made some of my closest friends past the age of fifty because of some special talent for friendship, but because I'm often thrown together with people in circumstances that expedite getting to a deeper level of connection. On the road, we approach new people with eyes wide open and alert.
But travel is only a catalyst. We can all do this without leaving home if we just open ourselves up for the possibility of new friendships. All it requires is getting rid of the assumption that we know all there is to know about those we already know.
One unexpected place to look for new friends is among those with whom one has experienced tension in the past. All one has to do is remember a few simple rules: people change; the context in which one meets a person may bring out one of their traots but hide dozens of others that would be more important in another context; you could have been wrong in either a particular disagreement or your earlier evaluation of someone.
Even if one does not become a close friend of a former enemy, there is a particular satisfaction of shortening one's enemy list. A young avreich told me recently how in yeshiva, he had gone out of his way to make life generally miserable for one of the members of the administration. When his first son was born, however, that newly matured avreich asked the same hanhola member to be the sandek. The latter was thrilled. And the young father said that it was the best decision he ever made in his life.
But it can go much beyond just burying the hatchet. For many years, I worked on a particular project with someone. Either we did not share a common vision, or we could not articulate our respective views well enough to find common ground. At some point, however, we both reached the conclusion that we just had to start again.
Not only did the project itself benefit, but joining forces, each adding what the other could not, became one of the most exciting aspects of the work. When that project finished, we were each filled with a palpable sadness that we would no longer be in thrice daily contact, and would have to find other ways to preserve the connection with our new "brother."
Hashem created the world with the necessity of connecting to others. And when we do so at a deep level, the joy we feel is that of coming closer to Him, and removing ourselves from Korach and his congregation.
Related Topics: Biographical - Jonathan Rosenblum, Jewish Ethics
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