Pirkei Avot which translates to English as “Chapters of the Fathers” is a compilation of the ethical teachings and maxims of the Rabbis between the periods of 10-210 CE. Because of its contents, it is also called “Ethics of the Fathers”. Pirkei Avot is unique in that it is the only tractate of the Talmud dealing solely with ethical and moral principles; there is little or no law found in Pirkei Avot.
My parents made sure that I went to a Yeshiva (a traditional Jewish school) throughout grade school and high school. Of all the religious teachings that I was privileged to learn in Yeshiva, I specifically remember that I truly enjoyed learning the teachings of Pirkei Avot. I remember that even as a young girl I would really listen and try to deeply understand what this ancient text was trying to teach us in relation to our relationship to the world that we live in.
Many of the teachings required a lot of commentary even to understand the thought behind it and sometimes even with the commentary, the teaching seemed to get lost in the translation – especially trying to understand it from a child’s perspective.
One of the teachings I remember not being able to fully understand was the quote “Provide for yourself a teacher and buy for yourself a friend”. I was not able to grasp why the Rabbis would dare recommend that we “buy” ourselves a friend. As a child, this seemed like crazy advice to me. Why would a friend need to be bought?…..
As an adult and after experiencing life and learning a little more about human nature, I have come to a very clear understanding of what our ancient teachers were trying to tell us.
Unfortunately, as most of us already know, good friends are hard to come by. But I ask you this……What qualities would you say a “good friend” must have?
You might answer that they should care about you and how you feel and to prove that they do…..they should be available for you when you really need them.
Yes, this would be a great friend to have, but it would require you to be the same kind of friend to them.
The problem with this arrangement is that sometimes, whether or not we can help it, other people’s “problems” are sometimes not that interesting to us….because we have our own problems to worry about.
If you expect to maintain the kind of friendship where you require someone to be available for your problems and you aren’t willing to do the same in return……the friendship inevitably won’t last too long.
If you expect to maintain the kind of friendship that if you make it your business to be there for all of your friends needs and you expect the same in return……the friendship inevitably won’t last too long.
Yes, you could have the kind of friendship that you feel open enough to talk about why you do, don’t or can’t accommodate each other’s requirements 100% of the time……but, I would bet money that at some point one of you is going to feel like you are getting the raw end of the deal and want out of the arrangement.
On the other hand……if you define a “good friend” as someone who you respect enough to learn from…..you will not require the same in return – so there is never any pressure to reciprocate…….and this friend will most likely be happy to provide their knowledge and guidance without requiring anything in return from you.
In other words, a “teacher” or someone that you can learn from is the best “friend” to have. And….according to this sentence in Pirkei Avot a “teacher” is someone you should “provide” yourself with – rather than “buy” for yourself.
But if you are not interested in a “teacher” as a “friend” and you would prefer the traditional “friend” ……the one that provides around the clock support……paying for their services would probably ensure that you get the kind of “friend” that you are looking for.
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