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A True Friendship

Thursday, 9 January, 2014 - 4:54 pm

At the time of the Roman Empire, two Jewish boys had grown up together in Israel and become very close friends. After a while, they moved far apart ― one living under Roman control, and the other living under Syrian control. Yet they remained very close friends.

One time, when the fellow from Rome was visiting in Syria, someone falsely accused him of being a spy. So they brought him to the Syrian Emperor, and he was sentenced to death.

As he was being led out to be executed, they asked if he had any last requests. "Please, let me go back to Rome to settle my affairs and say goodbye to my family. Then I'll come back and you can execute me."

The Emperor laughed.  What guarantee do I have that you'll come back?"

The Jew said, "I have a friend here in Syria who will stand in for me. He'll be my guarantor. If I don't come back, you can kill him instead."

The Emperor was intrigued. "This I've got to see. Okay, bring your friend."

The Syrian Jew was called in. Sure enough, he agreed to take his friend's place in prison, and be killed instead if the friend did not return.

The Emperor was so startled by this arrangement that he agreed to let the Roman Jew go. "I'll give you 60 days. If you're not back by the dawn of the 60th day, your friend is dead."

The Roman Jew raced back to say goodbye and put his affairs in order. After a hectic time and a lot of tears, he started back in plenty of time before the 60 days were up. But those were the days of sailing galleys, and sometimes you could sit for days waiting for the right wind to come. As luck would have it, there was no wind for several days, the sailboat was delayed, and by the time the Roman Jew arrived in Syria, dawn of the 60th day was breaking.

As agreed, the jailors took the Syrian Jew out for execution.

In those days, an execution was a gala affair. Early in the morning the crowds began to gather. Finally, as they were just about to perform the execution, the Roman Jew came running in. "Wait! I'm back. Don't kill him!"

But the Syrian Jew protested: "You can't kill him. He came too late. I'm the guarantor. You've got to kill me instead!"

Each friend was equally adamant. "Kill me!" "No, kill me instead!" The executioner didn't know what to do. The crowd was in an uproar!

Finally, the Emperor was called. In wonder and amazement, he turned to the two of them and said, "I'll let both of you go free on one condition. That you make me your third friend!"

That's why the verse in Leviticus "Love your neighbor," concludes with the words: "I am G-d." Because unity and friendship is so precious that even G-d wants to be part of it. He wants to be the third friend.

The dramatic  story of Joseph revealing himself to his brothers after decades of bitter separation. Twenty-two years earlier, when Joseph was seventeen years old, his brothers kidnapped him, threw him into a pit, and then sold him as a slave to Egyptian merchants. In Egypt he spent twelve years in prison, from where he rose to become viceroy of the country that was the superpower at the time. Now, more than two decades later, the moment was finally ripe for reconciliation.

This is how the Torah tells the story this week portion Vayigash:

"Joseph could not hold in his emotions. He began to weep with such loud sobs that the Egyptians outside could hear him. And Joseph said to his brothers: 'I am Joseph! Is my father still alive?' His brothers were so horrified that they could not respond.

“Joseph said to his brothers, ‘please come close to me’. When they approached him, he said, 

…G-d has sent me ahead of you to ensure your survival in the land and to sustain you for a momentous deliverance.’”

Because here is the most important thing to know about strife, rivalry, and hate: it is never exclusively about the one I hate; it is much more often about me, the hater. It is my inner lack of peace, my inner lack of true connection to G-d,  that allows me to fall prey to the poison of hate, envy and animosity. Of course you may be in the wrong, but the fact that I am overtaken by hate and jealousy is because of my own lack of connection to my inner soul, my inner core, my inner G-d, and hence my inner mission in this world. When I am unhappy with myself, I project it on others. And when I become more ego-centered than G-d-centered, I fail to realize that any obstacle I have in my life is part of my  G-d given journey.

If we're united, the Almighty's with us. If we're divided, we're on our own.

This is the love we need between Jews today.

I Love you all.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Yoseph Geisinsky

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