Acquisitions: Part One
“Acquire a friend for yourself (Avot 1:6).” How? Since I first learned this Mishna as a little boy I’ve heard it explained as, ‘even if you have to buy the friendship with gifts.’ It hasn’t worked for me, and I believe that I’ve never seen it work for someone else.
I have another question: Why does the Mishna not teach us for what to look in a friend? Does the Mishna wants us to find a friend who can be bought?
Rashi comments on Hillel’s famous teaching, “What is hateful to you, do not do to your friend (Shabbat 31a),” “Do not forsake your friend or the friend of your father (Proverbs 27:10),” ‘friend’ refers to the Holy One, Blessed is He. When we apply Rashi’s teaching, this Mishna means to acquire God as a friend. God certainly cannot be bought. The key must be the definition of acquisition.
I always read this Mishna as more than a list, or even a prioritized list, meaning that it is more important to make someone your personal rebbi (who is focused on lecha, you as an individual) than it is to acquire a friend; I read it as an ordered list: First, make a Rebbi for yourself. Second, acquire a friend. Third, in order to retain the rebbi and friend, learn to always judge someone more to the side of merit than fault. If we read the entire Mishna through the lens of the above Rashi, that the friend is God, how do we understand the instruction to make a rebbi for ourselves? Is God the Rebbi? Do we need a Rebbi to guide us in acquiring God as a friend?
Is it possible that the steps after the Children of Israel crossed the Split Sea, especially Marah, where Moshe began to teach Torah, intended for the people to make Moshe their rebbi, preparing them for Sinai, where they could acquire God as a friend? Would their stop in Eilim, with its Twelve springs of water and Seventy palm trees, have been their opportunity to make Moshe their personal rebbi?
The Rambam introduces Sefer Kinyan – The Book of Acquisition, with the verse, “The beginning of wisdom: Acquire wisdom; with all your resources, gain understanding (Proverbs 4:7).” ‘Acquire wisdom,’ cannot possibly mean to purchase wisdom, but to make it ours, as one who picks up a portable object to make it his, or pays for, or writes a contract for a field to acquire ownership.
Acquisition means to make it mine. Why are we instructed to make someone our personal Rebbi, but to acquire a friend?
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