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Parshas Vayeishev (5778)

Facebook "Friends and True Friendships

Call me a loser, but I don’t have a lot of real close friends. Oh, sure, I’ve got hundreds of Facebook “friends”, but they are not true friends.

It turns out that I am not alone. Here is an excerpt from an article I recently read online at

Facebook has turned the word “friend” into a verb, but just because you’ve friended someone on Facebook does that make them your friend in real life? Not according to a study that found almost all Facebook friends are entirely fake. Robin Dunbar, a professor of evolutionary psychology at Oxford University, conducted research into how Facebook friendship correlates with real-life friendship. Of the 150 Facebook friends the average user has, Dunbar found that only 15 could be counted as actual friends and only five as close friends.

I guess it really depends on how one defines friendship. If constantly updating your Facebook status and letting people know every time you blow your nose is your idea of being a friend, then I guess this whole conversation is a non-starter.

You must read the following humorous piece (author unknown) that my mother sent me just this week. It serves to illustrate just how ridiculous Facebook friendships can sometimes appear to be, when looked at from an outsider’s perspective:

To others of my generation who still do not and cannot comprehend why Facebook even exists, here’s what I am doing to gain better understanding: I am trying to make new friends without using Facebook, but while applying the same principles. Every day I walk down the street and tell passersby what I have eaten, how I feel at the moment, what I have done the night before, what I will do later, and with whom. I give them pictures of my family, my dog, and of me gardening, taking things apart in the garage, watering the lawn, standing in front of landmarks, driving around town, having lunch, and doing what anybody and everybody does every day. Sometimes I even poke them to get their attention. I also listen to their conversations, then give them the “thumbs up” and tell them I like them. And it works! I already have four people following me: Two police officers, a private investigator, and a psychiatrist.

Let’s explore what the Torah has to say about friendship.

Real friends are incredibly important to have, but are very hard to find. The Talmud in Taanis 23a teaches the importance of real friendship with the following words: “Either friendship or death”

In Ethics of the Fathers (1:6), our Sages advise us to “acquire a friend”. Why do we have to “acquire” a friend? Shouldn’t relationships occur spontaneously? Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski in his book Growing Each Day explains that many people think they have friends, but a true friend - the kind of person whom you can confide in and share everything with - is very hard to come by. For this reason, the Sages tell us to “acquire” a friend, i.e. to work hard at developing a relationship that grows beyond a superficial level.

How does the Torah define “friendship”?

It is interesting to note that one of the earliest appearances of the Hebrew word Re’ya, friend, in the Torah is in this week’s Torah portion, Parshas Vayeishev, in conjunction with Judah’s friend Chirah who is referred to as “his friend the Adulomite” and in whom Judah confides when he finds himself in trouble (see Genesis Chapter 38).

One can ask why the Torah deemed it so necessary to emphasize the friendship between Judah and the man Chirah. Rabbi Michoel Forschleger explains that the Torah is telling us that a friend is a person to whom one would disclose one’s innermost secrets, even if one has committed a sin. Chirah is mentioned in the Torah as the friend of Judah to teach us this important definition of friendship.

We can add to this that when Judah considers the possible negative consequences of his actions, he says to his friend Chirah: “… lest we become a laughingstock” (see Genesis 38:23), even though Chirah himself was not in trouble, only Judah. This teaches us another important lesson about what it means to be a true friend: When your friend is in trouble, you are in trouble with him. So that if Judah was at risk of becoming a laughingstock, then so was his friend Chirah.

The Midrash Shmuel in his commentary to Ethics of the Fathers writes that a true friend serves three functions: The first is as a catalyst for Torah study and intellectual growth, since two together is always better than one. The second is to insure one’s mitzvah fulfillment, for good friends feel free to offer constructive criticism to each other. The third function is to provide good advice in all areas and to act as a trusted confidant who does not reveal secrets to others.

My blessing to you and me is that we merit finding and creating true, long-lasting friendships in our lifetimes, and not settle for the superficial Facebook version.

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