He (RYB”Z) said to them (his five students): Go out and see which is a good path for a person to attach himself to. Rebbi Eliezer said “Ayin Tovah” (a good eye). Rebbi Yehoshua said “Chaver Tov” (a good friend). Rebbi Yossi said “Shachen Tov” (a good neighbor). Rebbi Shimon said “One who foresees the outcome (of his actions).” Rebbi Elazar said “Lev tov” (a good heart). He (RYB”Z) said: I “see” (prefer) the words (the opinion) of Rebbi Elazar be Arach, for included in his words are your words.
“Rebbi Yossi said ‘Shachen Tov’ (a good neighbor is the path one should choose).” Rebbe Yehoshua’s choice was “a good friend,” since his virtue was built on the purity of his material dimension, which can unite with the “koach hanefesh,” the human life force. Rebbe Yossi chose “a good neighbor” which was a reflection of his own virtue — an even higher purity of the material dimension, which was able to house the “koach hasechel,” the spiritual-intellectual force of the human being.
What is the difference?
An individual’s friend (“chafer”) is intimately connected to him, forming a bond that is complete and lasting. The relationship to his neighbor (“shachein”) is more casual and temporary, since it is due only to proximity. This distinction reflects the difference between the connection that the person’s material dimension has to his life force (“koach hanefesh”) and to his spiritual intellect (“koach hasechel”). There can be an intimate connection between an individual’s material dimension and his more human “koach hanefesh.” But in regards to an individual’s transcendent “koach hasechel,” the relationship is due only to the fact that the “sechel” resides in proximity to the “guf,” the material dimension, but has no real binding and lasting attachment. ( This will become a little clearer in a couple of paragraphs. But the assumption is that the there is a fundamental incompatibility between the finite material and the infinite spiritual. The more materialistic something is, the less attachment there can be between it and something spiritual.)
Therefore, the material dimension which connects with the “koach hanefesh” (human life force) is called a “chafer” (a friend, with the root “chibbur”) since it can unite with it. The material dimension which connects with the “koach hasechel” (spiritual-intellectual force) is called a “shachein” (a neighbor) since they have simply “taken up residence” near each other. (The greater spiritual nature of the sechel prevents it from making a bond with the material.)
(At this point, the Maharal here refers us back to his commentary on Ch. 1, Mishna 5. In our shiurim, we did not elaborate on the section he is referring to. But for those of you who want to see it in the original, he discusses the link between the “sechel” and the “nasi” (the political leader who was above the people) on the one hand, and the “nefesh” and the “av beith din” (the one who was responsible for implementing the system “in the real world”) on the other hand. It is towards the end of his commentary on Mishna 5 in the first chapter.)
(In the coming summary, the Maharal will be utilizing concepts that we introduced in the explanations of Mishna 10 and 11. I know it has been a long time — they need to be reviewed to grasp what is going to be presented.)
We can now understand how these lessons are organized. The “sechel” completely transcends the material dimension, the physical medium that serves as the carrier of the sechel. The “koach nefesh,” on the other hand, has some connection to the material which serves as its carrier. [The two material dimensions along with the two metaphysical dimensions account for four elements. In addition, there is a fifth element, which serves as the foundation from which all the forces emanate.]
Rebbe Yossi HaCohen’s virtue, “chasid,” was the result of the extreme refinement in his material dimension. This leads to his choice of the good path being “shachein tov”. He is teaching us that one should elevate himself above the crass and purely physical nature of the material dimension, purifying it so that it can be a good neighbor to the “sechel,” which is completely transcendent. This will lead to his actions being those of a “chasid,” a pious person.
There is another perspective that should be noted. Both a “shachein tov” and a “chafer tov” are called “tov” — good. Who is superior in the “tov”?
On the one hand, when someone does good for a friend, it is because of the close bond that exists between the two of them. It is as if the friend is being good to himself, due to the closeness that he feels to the recipient of his goodness. However, when a neighbor behaves in a way that is good to those around him, it demonstrates his fundamental nature as being good that he must possess, motivating him to be good even to those with whom he doesn’t have a close bond.
On the other hand, the good that friends will do for each other is much greater than the good that one will do for a neighbors. So the quantity of good done by a “chaver” is greater than that done by a “shachein.” But the goodness of the individual who does good for his “shachein” can be greater, and that good a more integral part of the person’s personality, than the goodness of the individual who does good for a “chaver.”
(We have used “good” as the translation of the word “tov.” But, as we have written a number of times, that this is less than a precise translation. “Tov” means being directed towards preparing and fulfilling a purpose.)
Both “chaver tov” and “shachein tov” were paths which derived from the purity of the material dimensions of Rebbe Yehoshua and Rebbe Yossi. Each one had a superior aspect. Being a “chaver tov” to the nefesh creates a closer bond than that of “shachein tov”. But that close bond is one with a lower level spiritual dimension — the human life force. The more distant relationship of “shachein tov” that can exist between the physical and the sechel may be less intense, being only a connection of proximity. But the fact that the material dimension has purified itself in a way that enables it to dwell in the proximity of the divine “sechel” is its superiority.