Good Friends Don't Need an Invitation

In the early twentieth century, a machlokes erupted between to giants of Torah; Rabbi Eliezer 'Leizer' Gordon of Telz and Rabbi Chaim Soloveitchik of Brisk.

The subject of the controversy was whether or not to produce a religious Jewish newspaper.

The Tezler Rosh Yeshiva was adamant that the newspaper should be created and supported to ensure that Yeshiva students got their news from a kosher source. It was obvious that the only way forward was an exclusively religious publication.

Reb Chaim countered that it was impossible to produce a newspaper that didn't contain Lashon Hara and secular or other questionable material – unless the editorial committee was made up by Gedolei HaDor; none of whom had the time or interest to play such a role.

The machlokes reached its apex when Reb Leizer proceeded with the publication despite Reb Chaim's protests. All of this led to an uncomfortable moment when Reb Laizer Gordon was not invited to the wedding of Reb Chaim's son, Rav Moshe Soloveitchik to Pesha Feinstein. (The parents of the Rav.)

In “The Soloveitchik Heritage”, Shulamith Soloveitchik Meiselman tells the story of the morning of the wedding (pg. 18):

Soon an uninvited guest, one of great distinction, appeared: Reb Eliezer Gordon, founder of the Telser Yeshiva... Reb Ele (Feinstein) was delighted by Reb Eliezer's sudden appearance in the hall and embraced him with open arms. Later, he approached Reb Chayyim and said, “Since Reb Eliezer is the oldest rabbi here, and since he is the founder and leader of one of the greatest Yeshivos in Eastern Europe, I must honor him with the most important blessing in the ceremony.” Reb Chayyim understood and did not object.

A number of years ago, one of my Rabbeim told me that when they asked Reb Laizer why he decided to attend, despite the obvious lack of invitation, he responded: Good friends don't need an invitation.

It's a thought and a value system which we are often too shy and/or too proud to embody. We are so easily insulted that we bristle at any critique, and we write off anyone who doesn't conform to our truths and perspectives. But that's not how friendship works; and we desperately need to reconsider how it does work:

As of 2021, a mere 13% of US adults reported having more than ten friends, while 12% reported having no friends at all. This, of course, is all the more troubling as the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services explains:

The physical health consequences of poor or insufficient connection include a 29% increased risk of heart disease, a 32% increased risk of stroke, and a 50% increased risk of developing dementia for older adults. Additionally, lacking social connection increases risk of premature death by more than 60%.

To address this painful reality, let's consider how Chazal describe one of the most painful and lonely experiences in all of Torah: The case of the inadvertent killer in our Parsha. This person has accidentally ended the life of another, and must now flee from his home and community; seeking asylum in a City of Refuge. There he must build a new life – a life of remorse, regret and reevaluation. But the goal is ultimately to rehabilitate this broken soul; to provide them with the means to a meaningful existence once again.

To this end, Chazal (מכות י׳ א׳) explain:

תלמיד שגלה מגלין רבו עמו שנאמר וחי עביד ליה מידי דתהוי ליה חיותא... א”ר יוחנן הרב שגלה מגלין ישיבתו עמו

In the case of a student who was exiled, his teacher is exiled to the city of refuge with him, so that the student can continue studying Torah with him there, as it is stated: “And he shall flee to one of these cities and live,” from which it is derived: Perform some actions for the unintentional murderer so that life in the city will be conducive to living for him... Rabbi Yochanan says: In the case of a teacher of Torah who was exiled, his Yeshiva is exiled with him.

The centrality of Torah to a person's life insists that a student is not abandoned by his Rebbe, nor a Rebbe by his students. If we want a person to live, we cannot deprive them of their Torah community.

But with these values so firmly rooted in our understanding of failure, rehabilitation and Talmud Torah, there is a peculiar and glaring omission in the Gemara.

Nowhere – in all of Shas – is a friend commanded to go into exile with the inadvertent killer! A Rebbe must go, a Talmid must go. But the Chavrusa? Why should he be allowed to remain?!

Chazal certainly understand the great importance of friendship as Rava (תענית כג א׳) tells us: אוֹ חַבְרוּתָא אוֹ מִיתוּתָא – Either friendship or death. So why not obligate a person to accompany their friend into exile?

The Pnei Menachem of Ger explains: The Torah does not need to obligate a friend to go along. If you are a good friend, you'll go – whether or not there is some formal obligation. And if not, there's nothing to obligate – you're simply not a friend. Good friends, real friends do not need obligations or invitations. They come when they are needed.

This Shabbos we will be announcing the beginning of Chodesh Av – the most challenging month of the year. But our custom is to call it Menachem Av – which literally means, “Comforting our Father”, because there is nothing that comforts Hashem more than knowing that His kids are getting along with each other. The Avoda this month is to pick up the phone, make a call, send a text. Show up to help, to comfort, to celebrate. That's how we comfort Hashem.

Hashem should help us to be there for each other, with the hope and the tefillah that He will soon comfort us as well.