A Different Kind of Friend
"He perceived no iniquity in Yaakov, and saw no perversity in Yisroel.
Hashem his G-d is with him, and the friendship of the King is in him."
The commentators translate "teruas melech" as "the friendship of the King",
"teruas" being from the word "rayus" - "friendship". Rashi explains the
verse as Balaam expressing the futility of any attempt to curse Bnei
Yisroel, for Hashem does not scrutinize their iniquity nor criticize them
for their shortcomings, even when they provoke Him by maliciously violating
His word.11 Why would not criticizing a person for his wrongdoing
be an expression of friendship? On the contrary, a true friend is not afraid
to criticize, for that is the manner in which he expresses his concern for
his friend's well-being.
In Parshas Kedoshim we find the commandment "ve'ahavta lerayacha kamocha" -
"you should love your friend as you love yourself"..22
Translating "rayacha" as "neighbor" is incorrect. Rayacha is derived from
the word "rayus" - "friendship". From this verse we can derive that in the
hierarchy of relationships, love is greater than friendship, for we are
commanded to love a person who already is our friend: "ve'ahavta lerayacha".
In the last of the Sheva Berachos, the seven blessings established by the
Rabbis as part of the wedding ceremony, we thank Hashem for the various
levels of relationships which can be attained by the bride and groom.
Presumably, we give thanks in ascending order. Here we say "ahava ve'achva
shalom verayus" - "love, brotherhood, harmony, and friendship". The
implication is that the relationship of friendship transcends that of love.
How do we reconcile this apparent contradiction?
In his commentary that introduces Pirkei Avos, the Shmoneh Perakim, the
Rambam cites Aristotle who defines various levels of friendship. The most
common type are friends with whom a person shares experiences. Although he
may enjoy their company, a person still maintains a facade, unwilling to
present his vulnerabilities to them, for fear that they may use this
information against him. Very rarely, do we find a friend in whom we place
our complete trust and for whom we are willing to let down our guard and
share our insecurities. This only occurs if we sense that this friend is
completely dedicated to our growth and his actions are motivated by his
concern for our best interests.
There is no contradiction between the verse in Parshas Kedoshim and the
terminology used at the Sheva Berachos. The verse is teaching us that we
should learn to love our friends who fall into the first category. The
Rabbis bless the married couple that their relationship should transcend
from love to the friendship of the second category.
It is difficult to accept criticism graciously, especially when the
criticism emanates from an injured party. The reason for this is that we
convince ourselves that the criticism is not being levied because the person
cares for us, rather because he is an injured party. This is only true of a
friend from the first category. However, if the criticism is given by a
person who we know to have our best interests at heart, we can accept that
the rebuke is meant to prevent us from harmful behavior. Rashi's
interpretation of the verse is thus: It is because of our "rayus" -
friendship with Hashem that He does not criticize us for what we have done
to Him. Hashem is willing to overlook the hurt that we cause Him. It is only
for the damage which we cause ourselves that Hashem rebukes and punishes us,
for Hashem's only agenda is our best interests.
Out of the Dust
"Who has counted the dust of Yaakov..." (23:10)
In his second explanation of this verse, Rashi offers the Midrashic
interpretation: Who can count the agricultural mitzvos that Bnei Yisroel
perform, for they are so numerous.11 The Maharal asks why it is
particularly the agricultural mitzvos that are drawn to Balaam's attention?
On the third day of creation Hashem instructs that there should be "aytz pri
oseh pri" - "fruit trees yielding fruit"33. However, when the
trees are actually created, we find that the verse states "v'aytz oseh pri"
- "trees yielding fruit".44. Rashi comments that Hashem commanded
the earth to produce trees which were edible themselves and had the same
taste as the fruit that they yielded. However, the earth produced trees
which were inedible themselves, but yielded edible fruit. Therefore, when
man was cursed for the sin of eating from the Tree of Knowledge, Hashem
cursed the earth as well: "Accursed is the ground." 5,65,6 What
is the notion of the earth disobeying Hashem's will? Furthermore, why is the
punishment of the earth delayed until Adam's punishment?
Clearly, the earth cannot rebel against Hashem's wishes, rather Hashem must
have programmed that instead of the earth producing trees in their perfect
state, i.e. having the same taste as their fruit, the earth brought forth an
imperfect product. The question that must then be addressed is why would
Hashem create the illusion that one of His creations rebelled against Him?
Since man is created from the earth, as is verified by his name "Adam" -
"from the adama (the ground) 77", it is the very perception that
the ground chose not to follow the will of Hashem that gives man his ability
of free choice, the ability to either conform to or rebel against the will
of Hashem. Since man's ability to sin stemmed from being created out of the
earth, it is only once he does sin that the earth is punished as well.
Punishing the earth is a furthering of the illusion that the earth has its
independence and the ability to choose not to conform to the will of Hashem.
The ultimate purpose of mitzvos which involve the use of the earth is to
take the element in creation that appears to be the most separate from
Hashem and has the greatest expression of Hashem distancing Himself from the
world, and reconnect it back to Hashem. It is specifically those elements
which appear most alienated from Hashem that when connected back to Him
reveal His glory in the greatest manner. It is this ability that Bnei
Yisroel have to take that which is cursed and turn it into beracha -
blessing, i.e. being reconnected back to Hashem, which impacts upon Balaam.
Balaam recognizes that Bnei Yisroel view that which is cursed as an
opportunity to reveal Hashem's glory, and not as an obstacle. Therefore,
ultimately Bnei Yisroel will be impervious to his curses.
2.Gur Arye ibid