|The Profundities of Torah-Acharei-Kedoshim-The-Friendly-Teacher|
|Written by HaRav Yochanan Zweig|
“...you shall love your fellow as yourself...” (19:18) There appears to be a contradiction between two Mishnayos in Pirkei Avos.1 In the second chapter we are enjoined to afford our friends the same honor we afford ourselves. In the fourth chapter however, we discover that the honor that we must have for our friends equals that of the honor we afford our teachers.2 To assume that this is a Tannaic dispute is a difficult position to maintain for if there were divergent opinions they would have been recorded side by side in the same Mishna. How do we reconcile the apparent contradiction?
The position requiring us to respect a friend with the same intensity as we would our teacher is apparently refuted by a verse in this week’s parsha. The Torah commands “v’ahavta l’reiyacha kamocha” - “you shall love your friend as yourself”.3 Clearly the emphasis is “as yourself” not greater than yourself. If so, why does the Mishna in the fourth chapter require that the honor afforded to a friend be equal to that of a teacher, which is presumably greater than the honor a person expects for himself?
The Rambam cites Aristotle who defines different levels of friendship. During his lifetime, a person may have many friends 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. This form of relationship is defined by the Rambam as “ahavas hato’eles” - “a friendship based upon shared convenience”. Very rarely do we find a friend in whom we place our complete trust and to 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.4
There is no contradiction between the two Mishnayos. They are identifying different relationships. We must treat a friend with whom we share experiences with the same level of respect that we would afford ourselves. It is this form of friend whom we are commanded by the Torah to make an effort to love, to take the relationship to a higher level than one of convenience. The second Mishna is referring to the friend who is dedicated to our growth. This type of friend must be afforded the respect that one would a teacher.
1:2:15 2.4:15 3.19:18 4.Rambam’s commentary to Avos 1:6