Clergy’s Corner

Read Rabbi Barras’ Monthly Reflections — “Rav Bar Oz

In this space each month, we feature the writings of one of the members of our Beth Am Clergy. This month we invite Cantor Rachelle Nelson to share some thoughts with you. You may contact her at with any comments.

The key to living a healthy life is ‘friendship’

I think I have discovered the true key to a healthy life! It’s not about the food you eat or the amount of steps you have accumulated on your cell phone. It’s not about how wealthy you are or the trophies and accolades you have received. And finally, it’s not about how many places you have visited or how much power you have attained. The answer is very simple and yet very difficult for so many… the key to living a healthy life is “friendship!”

Our sages taught, O Chavruta, O Misuta — either friendship or death. These are extremely harsh words to describe how one should live his or her life, but they are words that, in many ways, have kept our people alive as well as keeping each of us healthier. According to one rabbinic story, when the legendary miracle-worker Honi the Circle-Maker woke from 70 years of sleep, he faced despair because he was shunned by a new generation of scholars who neither recognized nor attended to him.

In his suffering, Honi prayed for death to release him from loneliness, prompting an unnamed sage to utter, “Either friendship or death” (Babylonian Ta’anit 23a). In Ecclesiastes it is written, “Two are better than one because they have a good reward for their labor. For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow; but woe to him that is alone when he falls, for he has not another to help him up” (4:9-10). Why is friendship so essential to Judaism that it is equated with life or death? What did our ancient ancestors know about relationships that we are still grappling with to this day?

For one thing, they knew that in order to celebrate life as Jews, we needed a companion. Yes, many of us light Shabbat candles alone, but there are always two or more candles to be lit. Only upon death do we light one candle. We pray together and apart, but when we pray together, we create community and comfort that lifts us to a brighter and more joyful place. We celebrate the Sabbath, holidays and festivals within the Synagogue and within our homes, but the liturgy calls for us to share this with others, not just alone. Jews created dance and song, liturgy and customs, all to be done with one another if possible. In essence, our Jewish ancestors knew that in order for Judaism to survive, we needed our spirits to survive, and we needed to do it together. This, I believe, is one of the most poignant reasons that we still thrive and exist.

The Chasidic master Rabbi Mordechai of Lechovitz taught: "Friendship is like a stone. A stone has no value, but when you rub two stones together properly, sparks of fire emerge." The Jewish people have created their own fire, light, energy, endurance, faith, determination and unity, all because we have insisted that friendship and companionship are essential to life.

While examining our liturgy, the “we” and the “us” stand out in all of our services. “Come, let us sing to the Lord” (Psalm 95)…” Come, my friend, to meet the bride; let us welcome the Sabbath” (from L’cha Dodi). Every poem, every psalm and every prayer that we chant or read when we pray, stresses the idea that it is better to pray together than apart.

The Mayo Clinic says that “friendships can have a major impact on your health and well-being, but it's not always easy to build or maintain friendships”. It is true that to be close to someone else, we must also be willing to be vulnerable, honest, and work hard at sustaining a growing and loving friendship. There are people, who for whatever reason have closed the emotional door to letting others in, and I do believe that they suffer greatly in their silence and loneliness.

Good friends are good for your health. Friends can help you celebrate good times and provide support during bad times. Friends prevent loneliness and give you a chance to offer needed companionship. They increase your sense of belonging and purpose in your life. They boost your happiness and reduce your stress because you have someone who understands how you think and feel. They help to improve your self-confidence and self-worth by building you up rather than breaking you down. In the movie Avatar, ”I see you,” means your friends listen to you and love you for who you are, not for who they wish you would be. How many of us are so fortunate to have this kind of friend in our lives. My mother (z”l) used to always tell me that if I could have one true friend in my life, it would be worth more than a hundred acquaintances. How right she was and how blessed I am that I have such friends.

As your summer progresses and as we soon enter the New Year once again, I hope that each of us will take a census of our lives and the people that we treasure. I hope that we will go out of our comfort zone and allow new friendships to develop, and I hope that those who have already touched our lives from the past or the present will receive a phone call or an email reminding them that they are important to us.

In the words of Ben Sira, a Hellenistic Jewish scribe, sage, and allegorist from Jerusalem in the 2nd century BCE, “A faithful friend is a powerful defense; he or she that has found such a one has found a treasure.” - (Ben Sira 6:14)

I wish for each and every one of you, big and small, a healthy and safe summer with lots of activity, some rest, rejuvenation, and most of all, friendship!

Love, Cantor Nelson

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