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Friendship or Death

By: Rav Yonny Sack

In this week’s parasha, Tzav, one of the korbanot that the Torah describes is that of the thanksgiving offering, the Korban Todah. This was an offering that was brought to the Beit HaMikdash to thank Hashem after such experiences as recovering from illness, dangerous travel and the like. Today this korban is marked through the reciting of psalm 100 ‘Mizmor LeTodah’, part of our daily prayers, through reciting ‘birkat HaGomel’ and also through the Modim prayer in the Tefilla Amidah, the climax of the morning service.

There is a beautiful insight that can be found in the way that this Korban was offered. It was an animal sacrifice of a bullock, goat or lamb which was shechted and then most of which was eaten as part of a feast by the person offering the thanks.

The korban was also accompanied by 40 loaves (Matza and Chametz).  Some of the offering was eaten by the Cohanim, but most of it was for the owner. After the Torah describes these details we are then instructed that the feast had to be consumed by morning. Nothing is to be left over:

“And the meat of the sacrifice of his thanksgiving offering must be eaten on the day of its offering; he may not leave any of it until morning” Vayikra (7:15)

Rashi comments that not only was the meat to be consumed but the loaves too – all ideally by midnight and if not at least before the morning.

This is somewhat strange. Why does the Korban Todah have to be eaten in such haste? Moreover, the amount of food that needed to be eaten was rather extreme, even for the most passionate BBQ’ers amongst us; the person giving thanks had to somehow consume most of an entire animal and 30 loaves (10 went to the Cohanim) by the morning! That is a lot of steaks.

One answer to this conundrum is found in the Netziv who says that the limited time and the mass of food necessitates inviting many guests to participate in the meal. This idea is elaborated on in the teachings of Rav Shimshon Pincus Zt”l who taught that the bringing a Korban Todah was really a feast of gratitude to Hashem for a salvation you received. It is not enough to be thankful in private. Rather, you must publicly thank Hashem to teach and inspire others to see Hashem’s greatness in their lives. The strict time limit for finishing the meat and the great abundance of bread means that the host will need to invite many people to his party in order to finish it. The laws of the offering thus ensure that this glorification of G-d’s name is brought about. This would perhaps be a fulfillment of what we say in the Modim prayer “UnSaper Tehilateicha” – “and we will tell of your praise”.

Many years ago I heard a beautiful insight that also relates to this question. The strict time limit to finish the enormous amount of food would necessitate inviting many friends to participate in the simcha feast, not only to spread the recognition of Hashem’s kindness to others (as above), but also to teach a fundamental message that happiness increases when shared.

As my father has often taught me how wonderful it is that through sharing with others, happiness increases, while conversely, when shared, sadness and pain is reduced[1].

The Gemara teaches a fundamental principle “or Chevruta or Mituta” – Friendship or Death[2]. This might sound quite extreme but the power of friendship and sharing good times and hard times with others who genuinely care about you is not to be understated.

The Yaavetz in his Migdal Oz [3] writes about the interdependence that each individual has with others. "Lo Tov Lihiyot Adam Levado" -" it is not good for man to be alone" [4] is not just an exhortation for marriage, but a call to every human being to realize the importance of genuine connection with others. He writes how we could simply not achieve the most basic of human needs such as clothing, shelter and food were it not for a network of individuals whose expertise in given areas allows for the production of these basics. Spiritual life is also far from complete without the many laws that deal with the interpersonal realm. Our holy person is not the celibate monk, but the one who engages in the world and family life and brings Hashem into the home and workplace through their relationships with others.  

This is a message that our generation, the “iGeneration[5]” is specifically in need of hearing. We live in a world where people have thousands  around the world that they socially network with and call their ‘friends’, but how many of those thousands can one really rely on to share in deep joy without any ulterior motives, preconditions, jealousies? How many are true friends?   

In our times of social networking, we have often fallen into the trap of replacing real companionship with superficial connections. People spend ‘time’ together online, email each other from one side of an office to another instead of getting up and talking face to face, or Whatsapp each other from one end of the house to the other. Then, when actually ‘in person’, it can often happen that each individual is focused on their device half of the time instead of really connecting to each other[3]. There is a lot more network style connection between people, but not necessarily genuine relationship building. The Mishna in Avot says "Kneh Lecha Chaver"[6] - "acquire for yourself a friend", which some commentaries explain to mean that building genuine friendship takes hard work, time and investment.

The genuine increase in happiness that friendship brings can only happen with genuine friendship.  Why is it though that this sharing of joy causes the joy to increase? Let's take a deeper look:

The Mishna in Avot[7] teaches that a "Chaver Tov" is one of the greatest things a person can have. The word Chaver is formulated from the word Chibur meaning deep connection or bond. The Tanya teaches [8] so beautifully that all Jewish souls are in fact only separated out into distinct bodies in this physical world, but were you to follow the soul of a given individual back to its root you would find that it begins to intertwine, bond and unify with the collective soul of the Jewish people, called Knesset Yisrael.

This is perhaps a deeper insight into why the happiness increases when you share it with others. In truth, we are all connected; it is our lowly vision of this material world that makes us see each other as separate and divided, almost like one looking at a high-rise building and focusing on the bottom floor as if it is the entire structure. This small vision creates distance and separateness. This distance allows for judgment which in turn fuels tension, quarrels and dislike.  When we connect in joy, sharing simcha, we feel much bigger as we are leaving the confines of the smaller “i” and tapping into a greater self – the ‘we’, transcending beyond the limits of the material world into a place of soul connection with a clal and we feel it even if we can’t explain it. Even deeper, this is a taste of connection with Hashem as He is the ultimate example of seemingly separate parts which are truly absolute Oneness, and furthermore, the Zohar teaches that Hashem, the Jewish People and His Torah are all one.

This is the intense power of friendship and why the Torah would not allow for a person to feast in gratitude alone. What we explained above is also a deeper insight into why the Torah writes that “you shall love your fellow as yourself” – because in depth, the more you learn to see them as literally spiritually part of your greater ‘self’ the more you will be able to love them.

The evil Haman in plotting to kill the entire Jewish nation described the Jews to Achashverosh as "one nation, scattered and divided . . . "[9]. The division amongst us is always our own worst enemy and pushes away the Divine presence from our midst [10]. As part of the tikun, Esther exhorts "Lech Knos et Kol HaYehudim. .  . "[11] - "Go and gather all the Jews" and with this unity, interconnected, we were able to upturn the decree and the day that was supposed to be one of destruction became one of rejoicing.

Purim thus involves the breaking down of barriers between people as we joyfully dress up, give each other gifts and eat festively together.

May this unity and the power of friendship bring us to a complete redemption speedily in our days.

Have a beautiful Shabbos and Happy Purim!

 

 


[1] Think of the laws of mourning, where from the moment a person loses a loved one, they are surrounded by their family and friends, and for the entire time of shiva there is always someone to talk to, someone to share memories with, and somehow, the pain that is so great for one to bear alone can become bearable when many shoulders are placed under the load.

[2] Taanit 23a

[3] In the section on "Bodedut"

[4] Bereishit 2:18

[5] Yes, this is the name that many are giving our generation. See Wikipedia  which wrote amongst other things “Matt Carmichael, a past director of data strategy at Ad Age, said in 2012 "we think iGen is the name that best fits and will best lead to understanding of this generation".[1] In 2014, an NPR news intern noted that iGeneration "seems to be winning" as the name for the post-Millennials.” 

[6] Avot 1:6. See the Rambam there.

[7] 2:9

[8] chp. 32

[9] Esther 3:8

[10] See the introduction to Sefer Chofetz Chaim for many proofs for this.

[11] Esther 4:16

 

 

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