We are in the Days of Awe, according to the Jewish calendar. According to the toddler calendar, my son has learned to say triple the number of words he could a year ago, put together full sentences, sleep through the night in his own bed (not every night mind you), ride a balance bike, and how to take turns. And much more. Toddler time makes it easy to distort chronological time. On the one hand, they grow so fast it’s easy to forget they were once tiny and nonverbal. On the other hand, they grow so fast it’s easy to forget that it’s been less than a year for some things.
This has been a challenging year in the friend department. One of the things that I find it easy to forget has been less than a year in the making is the loss of four friends – two couples, for a total of four people. One couple suddenly dropped off the face of the planet, no reason given. In the other couple, one of the two people showed her true colors – hurtful, controlling, spiteful. You might think, well, you’re well-rid of friends like that. Rationally, this is true. Emotionally, it’s hard not to internalize these losses.
It’s not like we don’t have trouble keeping up with the friends we do have. We have plenty of wonderful friends and having a little more space in our lives just makes more room for them.
Here’s the kicker, though. All four of the friends we lost are Jewish. On a practical level, this means a significant hole in Passover seders we might want to host, for example. But on an emotional level, it’s also got me thinking: What is the Jewish response to this?
The Days of Awe are supposed to be a time for reflection and meditation. A time to think about what we could do better next year. A time to make amends for anyone we may have hurt in the past year. How do you do that when you’ve been abruptly cut off? What do you do when someone has done things to you that are not forgivable, at least not in terms of letting them back into your life?
Here’s what I found online:
“Arguably the most important aspect of friendship in Judaism is the notable lack of obligation or contract. While all other relationships in the Jewish perspective are characterized by a series of duties clearly defined in the Torah, from parenthood to marriage to business associations, there are no such measures of propriety or legality among friends. This makes friendship both freer and more fragile than any other kind of relationship…In the Pirkei Avot, the Talmudic collection of moral and ethical wisdom of the great commentators, it is stated, “…woe to him who is alone when he falls and there is no one to lift him”…It is then the ability of one’s friends to be a system of support where all else has failed. We help our friends not because we must, but because the world is made better when we do.” — msarko, http://judeotalk.com/article/friendship-judaism
I like framing friendship as the most free, unregulated type of relationship we have. I’ve always said that, just not in terms of Jewish law. Friends are supposed to people we choose because they make us feel good and support us, not because we are biologically related to them or feel an obligation to for other reasons. But the flip side of that is needing to accept that we can’t possibly hold onto every friend forever. Gotta let some of them go, and we don’t always get to say when or which ones.
And here’s what I found on forgiveness. Jewish law suggests three different levels of forgiveness, the first of which is simply to not wish harm on the person who has harmed on you, to even wish them well. Next comes to completely let go of anger and hurt, and finally the last stage is to reconcile the friendship, but Judaism acknowledges this is not always possible.
“The Talmud explains that even if someone has hurt us terribly, it is expected of us to find the strength to forgive them at least on the first level. Absence of any forgiveness whatsoever is a sign of cruelty.” — http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/593022/jewish/Must-I-Forgive-Everyone.htm
I wish I could say achieving even this first step was easy, because admitting it is not makes me feel like a terrible person. But I think I’m almost there, and knowing that this is the only stage Judaism commands me to make it through gives me hope. My goal for this Days of Awe, then, is to achieve this first level of forgiveness. Maybe someday I’ll let go of the hurt and anger completely, but for now, it keeps me safe.