Best Friends Forever

In a Torah-observant Jewish home, Passover may be an eight-day holyday (seven in the land of Israel), but preparations for the Festival, both physical and spiritual, commence weeks earlier.

I’ve discussed in previous Thought Tools that Passover revolves around family. Paradoxically, however, Passover is one of the three pilgrimage festivals. In the times of Solomon’s Temple or the Second Temple, each adult male was obligated to leave his home and ascend to Jerusalem. While family members could, and often did accompany him, he also inevitably shared the experience with many non-family members.

Three times every year all men must appear before the Lord, your God…
(Deuteronomy 16:16)

What component of community and friendship did this pilgrimage bestow?

The haunting Book of Job provides a critical clue as to one benefit of this journey. God grants Satan the power to hurt Job in any and every way other than killing him.

And the Lord said to Satan, behold, he is in your hand, but spare his life.
(Job 2:6)

Sure enough, Satan strips Job of everything. He loses his family, his fortune, and his health. But wait!

Now when Job’s three friends heard of all this evil that had come upon him, they came …to mourn with him and to comfort him.
(Job 2:11)

Why did Satan not also rob Job of his friends? After all, he took everything else. He took his home and his business. If his goal was to leave Job with nothing, surely he should also have taken his friends? This would strip Job of even the consolation of friends mourning with him.

My friend Rabbi Yakov Horowitz mentioned a profound insight from ancient Jewish wisdom to me: being deprived of friends is a sentence of death. Thus, according to God’s directions to Satan that Job’s life must be spared, Satan lacked the power to deprive Job of his friends. This would have been equivalent to killing him.

Most of us can think of times that friends bring us joy or give us ideas and support that open up vistas of possibilities. Friends lift our spirits from sad apathy and even lethargy, thereby reenergizing us, literally granting us life. Even so, as vital as friends are, surely, most of us in healthy families would choose our family over our friends were such a terrible choice forced on us?

Much of Passover does indeed focus on the importance of family. Yet, the pilgrimage to Jerusalem adds another critical dimension. We can’t always control whether or not we have family. Parents, siblings, spouses and children can die or be far from us. Yet, unless you are in solitary confinement, you can always make friends. No matter your age or situation, no matter how difficult approaching strangers can be, making friends is within our power. Passover urges us to prioritize our family and at the same time tells us that insular, clannish clinging only to family isn’t enough. We need to reach out and surround ourselves with those we may not know yet, seeking to connect with people from different regions and backgrounds. In doing so, we and our families will be enriched.

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