Rabbi’s Corner: I Get By With a Little Help From My Friends

“I get by with a little help from my friends.”

I thought of this Beatles song earlier this week when dear friends from Toronto flew to Los Angeles with their young children on Monday for a two-week vacation. They’re starting in LA and will drive up the coast to San Franciso. They asked me to drive to Ventura to have dinner with them at the Galleria Mall. Initially, I didn’t feel like spending my day off driving a few hours in traffic, eating at a chain restaurant. I have so little free time and have so much more unpacking to do at home to get settled.

I realized I was being too self-involved. Opportunities to see each other are infrequent and these are very special friends. They are kind, thoughtful, and go out of their way to stay connected no matter where we are. They inspire me to be healthier, make good choices, be intentional in my thoughts and actions and be a better friend to all around me. My boxes can be unpacked at another time, but friendships need to be nurtured, tended, and cared for because one never knows what life will bring. So yes, I drove to dinner at the Galleria Mall and it was great seeing them.

As I was driving home from Ventura, I reflected on this beautiful secular teaching about the blessing of friendship:

The people we surround ourselves with either raise or lower our standards. They either help us to become the best version of ourselves or encourage us to become lesser versions of ourselves. We become like our friends. No man becomes great on his own. No woman becomes great on her own. The people around them help to make them great.
We all need people in our lives who raise our standards, remind us of our essential purpose, and challenge us to become the best version of ourselves. (The Rhythm of Life, by Matthew Kelly)

Our Torah portion for this week, Eikev, reinforces the idea that relationships are critical for us to prosper. The well-known passage from Deuteronomy 8:3 states: “A human does not live on bread alone, rather on anything that the Eternal decrees.”

As humans, we need to be sustained not just by food, shelter and water. We need to live our lives in relationship with people and with God. Modern philosopher Martin Buber said: “In every interaction, we have a choice to view others as fellow humans with whom we share the basic essence [of life], or as things: pawns to be moved, scenery for dramas, obstacles in our way, or a competitors to be vanquished…when we view others as fellow humans, God will dwell in those relationships.”

Abraham Ibn Ezra (Medieval Spanish rabbi, commentator and scientist) explains our Torah text by saying that humans are sustained by what emanates from the heavenly spheres, and these emanations are spiritual in nature. How do we interpret this? Do we, as humans, emanate from the heavenly spheres and thus, we sustain one another through our relationships and our relationship with God? Is there an element of spirituality that emanates from the heavens which is necessary for us to seek out, in order for us to be sustained, thrive and survive? What do you think? For me, I get by with a little help from my friends…and family…and God…and community.

As we count down the weeks to the Yamim Nora’im, the High Holy Days, let’s consider how each of us “gets by in life,” what we need to become the best version of ourselves and what are those elements that enable us to not only survive but thrive.

Shabbat Shalom!
Rabbi Sharon L. Sobel

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