Wednesday, April 30, 2014

PIRQE ABOT 1:7, tell me who your friends are...

ניתאי הארבלי אומר הרחק משכן רע ואל תתחבר לרשע 
ואל תתייאש מן הפורענות 

To prepare ourselves for Shabu'ot, the day we received the Tora, it is customary to study Pirqe Abot, the "Chapters of the Fathers" which is a tractate of the Mishna composed around the Second Century. This Mishna does no deal with the details of the observance of specific Mitzvot, as usually the Mishna does, but with practical Jewish wisdom, values and mores.      

There are many excellent English translations and commentaries of Pirqe Abot. My favorite one is the Me'am Loez, written by rabbi Ytzhaq Magriso, 18th century, Turkey. He wrote his commentary originally in Ladino (Judeo- Spanish. The book was published in 1747 and today we have a beautiful English translation of his book done by rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, z'l.   

Let me share with you a few insights from his book

This Mishna (1:7) talks about neighbors and friends. Exhorting us to be careful when choosing our company. 

*Rabbi Magriso explains the dangers of bad influences, via friendship. Influence, positive or negative, is not perceived while taking place. Bad company is like second-hand smoking. The harmful consequences are virtually inevitable, and we might realize those effects on us or on our children when it is already too late. 

* Rabbi Magriso offers his insights on real friendship.  He writes that "a good friend" is defined primarily by his or her character. A good friend is an individual who is able to be happy for your happiness. A person who is not jealous of your success.  A bad neighbor, on the contrary, is the one that somehow suffers or is envious of your blessings.  Find neighbors and be among friends who are not jealous of you, and save yourself from a lot of trouble. This is a big lesson, not just for identifying who is a good friend (which is not a simple task, because jealousy is not always easy to detect) but it is also a very important idea for ourselves, to improve our own character: We must learn to be genuinely happy, and never resentful, for the success of our friends. 

*Rabbi Magriso also wrote: What is the best way to assess someone's character? What is the way to see if our children are in a good path? Look at his or her circle of friends. Who your friends are is the best indicator of who you are, or who you are about to be.