Daf Yomi Nazir 13
Rav Noach Weinberg would tell the story of two Jewish boys who had grown up together in Israel and became very close friends. After a while, they moved far apart – one living under Roman control, and the other living under Syrian control. Yet they kept in touch.
One time, when the fellow from Rome was on business 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. "Are you crazy? Why should I believe you’ll be 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 if the friend would not return.
The Emperor was so startled by this arrangement that he agreed to let the Roman Jew go. "I'll give you sixty days. If you're not back by the dawn of the sixtieth 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 leaving plenty of time before the deadline. 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 sixtieth day was breaking.
As agreed, the officers took the Syrian Jew out for execution.
But, just 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 insisted, "You can't kill him. He came too late. I'm the guarantor. You must kill me!"
Each friend was equally adamant.
"No, kill me!"
The executioner didn't know what to do. Finally, the Emperor was called in. In wonder and amazement at their unbelievable commitment and dedication to one another, he turned to the two of them and said, "I'll let you both go free on one condition – that you make me your third friend!"
If a fellow declared, ‘I pledge to become a nazir if I have a child,’ and his friend heard and said, ‘Me too,’ what is the deal? Is he talking about himself, i.e. pledging to become a nazir if he too has a child, or maybe he is saying, ‘I love you as much as you love yourself,’ in other words he loves his friend so much that he too would become a nazir if his friend were blessed with a child.
How far would you go for a friend? Do you truly feel their joy and pain? Do you love them to the extent that you would take their place at the guillotine? Would you be as happy for them as they would be for themselves if they were blessed with a child or won the lottery? Especially if these were blessings that you were lacking?
It’s not easy to revel in someone else’s good fortune and blessing when you are suffering. It’s not easy to attend wedding after wedding of your younger friends when you still can’t find your basherte. It’s not easy to attend yet another simchat bat or bris, when you’re struggling to conceive.
But that is the definition of a true friend. A true friend says, ‘I love you as much as you love yourself.’ Their joy is your joy. Their pain is your pain. If you’re seeking true friendship, you need to be able to spiritually transform into that other person – to have an out-of-body experience as you leave the shackles of your own body and physical experience and place yourself in their shoes for a brief moment.
That means imagining how they must be feeling, without being in any way tainted by your own experience. That’s not a simple accomplishment. But if you can get there, you will begin to understand true friendship.
Rav Noach concludes his story explaining that the ultimate third friend is the Almighty. When you love someone as you love themselves, the Torah declares that you infuse that relationship with the energy of the Divine. And there’s no stopping such intense power – the two of you are now limitless in your potential to achieve great things together!
Sometimes having a third wheel in a friendship can be awkward and complicated. Not so with Hashem – He is the most incredible third wheel that you can bring into a relationship. May you merit finding true love in all your friendships – the ability to love the other person as much as they love themselves and inviting the Almighty in as your third friend!