Tag Archives: Masculinity

Tu biShvat: The active, virile energies it addresses in nature and us

The development of the seder, and what we can learn about our will for assertion from this tradition

Tu biShvat – the New Year for the Trees – is probably one of the most enjoyable, and yet one of the least understood, holidays in the Jewish calendar. It is a highly mystical holiday, and also deeply connected to nature. And because us moderns tend to be quite detached from both the mystical and the natural world, it’s hard for us to connect with this frame of mind. It’s often hard – especially for those of us who are primarily urban business people – to connect with the land and do it in a most spiritual way.

Just in time for Tu biShvat, we have sprouting etrog (Israeli citron) trees breaking soil!

Just in time for Tu biShvat, we have sprouting etrog trees breaking soil! This is a very virile holiday, it is not so much about embracing mother nature. It’s more about becoming aware and mindful of how we assert ourselves over nature, and then taking those lessons inward.

This is especially more so for us Jews outside of the land of Israel, where the agricultural issues of how to manage the crops of Eretz Yisrael and where observing the related halacha isn’t something we really experience.

This holiday marks the agricultural fiscal year in the land of Israel. This is when all the trees are accounted for in the land, allowing the growers to know when it was appropriate to harvest from a tree. This accounting made it possible to know when to observe the many agricultural related Torah mitzvot; such as to give first-fruit offerings from a new tree, and when to mark for the agricultural sabbatical years (shemitah) in the land, and from what point to give tithes from ones crops. (see Leviticus 19:23-25)

Notice that this year is the shemitah year in Israel, where we don’t plant or harvest in Israel. We let the land rest and lay fallow in the holy land. But here in the diaspora most people are unaware of it. Like I said, it’s hard to connect to this outside of the Land of Israel. Where the seasons might not jive and the cycle doesn’t apply. This makes it difficult to grasp and appreciate, this cycle of life in Isreael. And this can even be unnerving to some, who do not hold Israel dear. As indeed, this holiday does ask us to consider the nature and produce of the Land of Israel. And it also calls us out to actively connect with this very land.

But this holiday which we know today comes down to us today as an outgrowth of both spiritual and secular reinterpretation. Ones which have greatly shaped the holiday and the way we celebrate it today.

The kabbalists of the middle-ages – those Jewish masters of mysticism and the esoteric – they were deeply connected to the land of Israel after their expulsion from Spain in 1492 and upon their arrival in the holy city of Tzfat (Safed). There the symbolisms of this holiday came alive for them as they began to renew the land. And there they were also able to discover deeper spiritual meanings to this observance and to the traditions surrounding this holiday.

Out of this tradition we received the seder for this holiday, as documented in the “The Pri Etz Hadar: Fruit of the Majestic Tree seder for Tu biShvat by Rabbi Natan Binyamin Ghazzati (ca. 17th c.),” a deeply mystical text intended to help people take a spiritual accounting of their growth and produce on a soul level. This text first documented the customs for the Tu biShvat seder we know today. A source text made popular among Sephardic and Chassidic masters, being close adherents of the mystical schools.

Of course, as the age of enlightenment arose many people began to neglect the deeply mystical practices. And intern this holiday of Tu biShvat fell into neglect by many in the next couple centuries.

However, another huge revival and re-envisioning of this holiday – this time a secular one – would come about as the result of another direct encounter with Jews and the land of Israel. Actualized as part of the Zionist dream during the 19th and 20th century, during the rebirth of the land of Israel and the formation of the modern, secular State of Israel. This holiday would take on the role akin to Arbor Day, and focus upon the restoration of the land of Israel. Planting trees and restoring the wildlife of Israel, which had been stripped bare in the many wars, crusades and occupations.

For many Jews in diaspora, Tu biShvat would thus also come to hold significance. A day in which we direct our focus towards Israel. To try to connect with eretz Yisrael in the most direct ways possible. Many contributing to the restoration and preservation of the land. The world over, Jewish progressives and religious Zionists would come to observe this day by giving tzedakah (charity) for planting trees in Israel. This day noticeably marked with the passing around of the Jewish National Fund pushka.

Believe it or not, especially for Orthodox Jews in America, the giving of tzedakah for planting trees is one of the only ways most of us remember observing the holiday as kids. I was talking about this with my friends who were former yeshiva bochurs as we planned for the holiday this year. Except for obtaining from fasting, which isn’t necessarily an observance in and of itself, that was about it. Raising money in diaspora and physically planting trees in Israel was the most pronounced observance any of us remembers. One which was less likely if you were haredi, and therefore not Zionist leaning.

In the orthodox world I remember we would all do a little learning, but few people held a full Tu biShvat seder in those days. Most likely, because few people knew exactly how to perform it well enough. Which is quite sad because the seder is dripping in symbolism which should be most meaningful for those who are fully immersed in the verbiage of kabbalah and chassidus. And yet, we admit we have often been lacking in our application and enthusiasm.

Of course since then, a lot has changed. Newer siddurim and the advent of online resources, more people are finding the seder more accessible. But the reviving observance is also greatly motivated by a growing interest in kabbalah in society today. An interest which many traditional movements are thrilled to be meeting, so today there is a lot more promotion of this holiday more than ever to address this interest.

However, for the most part the most success in incorporating this holiday into the consciousness of diaspora Jews has come during the latter part of the 20th century and during the turn of the 21st century has been made by progressive Jews. By diaspora Jews who have brought the lessons learned in modern-day Israel to the rest of the world. Who have witnessed the melded of the secular with the spiritual in the modern-day State of Israel. And who have in this model taken the holiday and made it more socially conscious in our own lands. And who have also come to mark this day as an opportunity for their communities to become socially and politically active regarding the environment and nature. Realizing that we wont bear fruit until we break ground through social action.

In this spirit the holiday of Tu biShvat has come to be embraced the world over as a Jewish Earth Day Celebration of sorts. Where people not just celebrate nature, but actively show their green thumb and their social activism. A time when one gets to show their love for nature and vow to preserve it.

The latter reason is probably another factor for why this holiday of Tu biShvat is more well observed among progressives and less so among conservatives in America. Be it personal discomfort with being called a tree-hugger, one’s dissociation with nature… or even worse, ones troubling environmental politics. What ever the reason, many religious Jews in the Americas show neglect towards our observance because of our personal sentiments we need to correct.

Today I want us to take the time to focus on a tikkun atzmi – a correction and repair within ourselves. So intern we can be more effective in making a tikkun olam – a correction and repair in the world! We need to have both.

A Peek into the Mystical Aspects of the Tu biShvat Seder

And that is precisely what this holiday is about according to our kabbalistic tradition. Making a tikkun (a correction) within ourselves.

And more specifically making a correction within our male energies and over our sense of assertion. This is a very virile holiday, it is not so much about embracing mother nature. It’s more about becoming aware and mindful of how we assert ourselves over nature, and then taking those lessons inward.

And this is where I fear I might lose readers, both nervous males and bashful females. I’ve noticed I can talk as much as I want about the feminine aspects of G-d’s shechinah these days, but talking about masculine things is something many are becoming less accustomed to! Men and women, both equally, show discomfort at times. However, I think that whatever our gender is we can all learn a very important lesson by looking at the very masculine and assertive essence of this holiday of Tu biShvat.

I don’t want to make it weird so let me explain what I mean, and use the paralleling examples we can draw from. At this time of year we are approaching the spring harvest two months from now, which is the biblical new year; that is something most of us know little about. So instead let us look at the opposite side of the calendar, and compare it to the coming of the civil and religious new year – to Rosh haShanah; that is something we seem to all naturally know more about. I’m sure many of you will immediate recognize the polar distinctions between these two seasons in our tradition.

When we think of the season of Rosh haShanah we think of it as a season with female spiritual correspondences. The season of Elul and Tishrei are often regarded as a feminine and receptive time of year. This month of Elul, its kabbalistic Zodiac sign is the Beitulah; the virgin which corresponds to Virgo, explained as the same virgin (beitulah) of Libra with the scales of justice (moznayim) in hand. This symbolizes the receptive nature of the virgin earth, during the season of plowing of the land. It also represents Din – or judgment, which is also seen as a feminine aspect of the Divine. As we know, we are making selichot in that month of Elul, in preparation towards being judged in Tisherei. That season is characterized by judgment and restriction.

But at the same time the season of fall is an intimate season, in which we are to mystically mirror a young virgin longing for marriage and intimacy. When we want to mirror that longing in our relationship to G-d. That is why we also consider Rosh haShanah our wedding day to G-d. From that point of spiritual reference, we focus upon our receptivity.

See, that wasn’t so hard. Not too difficult to talk about. And even if we are not kabbalistically learned, most of us recognize these themes. Now let’s see if we can grasp the other end of this.

In contrast, at this time of year we are supposed to be focusing on the more masculine correspondences displayed in these upcoming months. Now during Shevat we do not consider this season barren, this is now the time of the almond blossoms breaking forth. The ground will soon start to break forth with life, and with the hopes of budding of fruits to come.

We are now going into the fertile months. Two months from this night, we will be looking up at a full-moon like this and celebrating Pesach; we will be eating the produce of the spring wheat harvest, and counting towards the barley harvest until Shavout. This is a seminal and groundbreaking time of year. A very virile and fertile time of year!

We aren’t the only people who see this, consider how strong the theme of fertility is present in the cultures around us as this season approaches. As the common culture will soon find their celebrations also entrenched in symbols of fertility; as they decorate everything in eggs and bunnies. This theme is starting to be in the air for many cultures the world over, not just for us alone. It’s not hard to recognize and understand this seasonal contrast.

In contrast to the feminine and receptive nature of Rosh haShanah (and Beitulah), the spiritual new year of Pesach is a strikingly masculine holiday. And so is Tu biShvat. The Fall nature is barren and receptive, the Spring is asserting and springs forth. We know what we are talking about here, as traditionally cultures have often binarily called this “masculine initiative,” so we get what this means. I don’t need to be too explicit, I think we all get this.

Notice how the kabbalistic zodiac sign Taleh, the lamb in our tradition or a ram, it corresponds to the spring month of Aires (the month of aviv, spring; Nissan); it displays the masculine spiritual forces par-excellence. It represents an active and domineering partner in its spiritual attributes. It displays the Divine aspects of Chesed – that passionate and ever-expansive type of love. That fiery and lusty energy is what takes center stage as this time of fertility draws close.

Now we really need to pay special attention to this point. And I think if we examine our own drives we can clearly connect to these points in every person. That what this side of the Divine essence represents is that power of assertion we have inside us. That drive to want to assert ourselves in life and in our relationship to other things. It signifies that ever-expansive desire to aggressively assert ourselves over nature and life itself. To take whats barren and make life spring erect from it.

These are the words and themes mystically woven together in this Tu biShvat seder. For those who are attuned to kabbalah and chassidut we know that part of the this tikkun we are making is within our own personal will and drive to assert ourselves; and to bring balance to an ever-expansive type of chesed in us, as displayed by masculine aspects of the spiritual forces used in the text of the seder. (Abba, Tzedek, Yesod, etc.) It calls us to consider and make tikkun (correction) for an expansive love and passion on overdrive.

Take a look at the Pri Etz Hadar when you get a chance. Notice that the seder wording clearly makes those parallels in how it speaks about making a correction in Yesod (the phallus), and by means of this expressing how our over expansive drives are so seen as a form of unchastity. As we are embracing the virile energy at this time of year, we are also asked to be equally mindful in using that power responsibly. It calls us to make a correction in ourselves, related to bring balance to our own carnal desires and actions. Instead of giving completely over to this virile drive we are called to bring balance to it. Asking men in the traditional text to be mindful that they might be over-expansive in their carnal passions, and to make a tikkun (a correction inside ones self) for that.

This is a lesson which was learned though nature, and which needs to be applied back in our relationship with nature. At the heart of the Tu biShvat seder, under all the layers of mysticism, that is what it is doing by calling us to on all levels overcome a base-level drive inside of ourselves to assert ourselves over nature and be more responsible with the power we assert over the earth.

At Rosh Hashanah in Fall we are called to be mindful of being receptive and properly submissive in our nature. But in this coming season of Spring, we are asked to be mindful of our will to assert ourselves and to expansively spring forth.

For those who are brave and honest with themselves, we need to be asking ourselves some questions deep inside our souls at this time. Privately ask oneself:

  • Am I over-asserting myself over the earth in a damaging and disrespectful manner? Am I being over-expansive in respect to the earth?
  • Am I over-asserting myself sexually, using it in a damaging and disrespecting manner? Am I being over-asserting in my sexuality?

The Seder and the Four Worlds

Now the structure of the Tu biShvat seder shows us how to apply this vigorous expansiveness, how to properly apply all this Chesed. And addresses how to become more effective in this aspect, both in our passions and actions. It does this by taking us on a journey up the scale of the kabbalistic Four Worlds of ABiYA:

Assiyah: The world of Action

Yetzirah: The world of Formation

Beriah: The world of Creation

Atzilut the world of Emanation (actualization)

In this seder we start our frame of reference grounded in the physical world of action, and we are moving towards pure thought which we perceive as being in the fiery heavens (where the sun and stars burn in the sky) as the mystics perceive of this path. We are moving upwards, elevating our senses and drives and thoughts to even loftier heights.

tree labeled four worlds kabbalahBut it all starts with activity, this process begins with us starting within the world of action. It starts with us putting our hands into action. And then as we begin to act, we can then better perceive of how to form and inspire creation in this world.

This holiday orients us and points us forward, and up. Directing us to strive on for a higher level of thought and passion which is beyond constriction, understood as the world of Emanation (Atzilut). Where G-d is One and the world is one. At this highest level of consciousness, we are trying to actualize a world without striving, restriction, disunity and lack; where there is completeness and wholeness.

Now I’ve said a mouthful, and I know very well that most of us aren’t mystics. I know not many of you consider yourselves too spiritual or mystical. Many of us are moderns and progressives, people who are not wrapped up in a world of mystical symbolisms as others. I understand this.

But that is the beautify of this holiday, it doesn’t require us to be at a place of lofty spirituality. The spiritual exercises of this holiday starts us firmly on the earth, in the natural world and in this very realm of physical action. All we need to do is focus on how to bring our actions better in line with our most loftier thoughts.

This tradition of ours doesn’t tell us we need to attain great spiritual heights. It just tells us to start with our actions, and to elevate our thoughts which inspire our actions. We don’t need to be concerned if we reach Atzilut, really. We aren’t literally trying to reach perfection, but what is important is that we are striving towards bettering and perfecting this world towards that more ideal reality. And doing a tikkun, making a correction, for those defects we recognize in this world.

In both our actions and with our passions as previously discussed, we are asked to become more conscious about our sense of assertiveness. That is what I want us to keep in mind as we make our way through the Tu biShvat seder this year. How to make a tikkun in that area of our lives as well.

Reflection: Now I don’t really think that traditional Jews are less observant than progressive Jews in respect to this holiday, just less enthusiastic about it sometimes in diaspora. As it is noticeable that progressives have started to do more visible activism during this holiday in the west. And that’s a chesed, it’s a really great thing!

In actually, I don’t believe one side is necessarily more observant or correct than the other. But that traditional Jews and the progressives Jews today are often approaching this holiday from different sides, but for the same goal:

  • In the orthodox circles, people are and often have been more attuned to their tikkun atzmi – a correction and repair in oneself.
  • And in the progressive circles, people are generally more attuned towards a tikkun olam – a correction and repair in the world.

However, the reality is that all of us need to be working towards a tikkun in both these areas, and do so more seriously during this season. Our tradition actually calls us to deal with both. We can’t really achieve one without the other, so we need to bring balance to both.

Tu biShvat Seder Resources:


Parshat Vayeishev (2013)

Genesis 37 – 40:21

Finding Friendship in the Company of Outcasts

Do you have a friend that always accepts you no matter what? Is that your idea of a good friend? What type of friends do you have in your life? Are they cronies or are they partners for greater things? Today we are going to explore some friendships born under pressure, and explore what makes them most intimate.

Though most of this parsha seem to concern itself with the uppity Yosef haTzadik, I actually found myself drawn in to the story of our anti-hero Yehuda. We don’t often give enough look at him, first because he is a villain of sorts up until now. Secondly, his story is sandwiched in the middle of our parsha, so it feels like just a minor stop-off. However, we have a lot to learn here in Genesis chapter 38.

Let us take a look at the top of our fourth aliya:

“And in time its happened that

Judah was demoted in the eyes

of his brothers,

so he turned to certain Adullamite

whose name was Hirah.”

| Vayehi ba’et hahi

| vayered Yehuda

| me’et echav

| bvayet ad-ish Adulami

| ushmo Chirah.

Genesis 38:1

Previously we learned that Yehuda was chiefly responsible for his brother’s kidnapping and the consequential selling of him into slavery.  For his role as antagonist in this case, rightfully his brothers demote him. The word use is vayered, they made him decrease or go down. His yeridah (descent) was not just metaphorical, it was also physical as he ran away from his blessed home and went to stay out in the wilderness with a friend he made from Adullam, in the Valley of Elah.

Male Friends Embracing

This week we discuss friendships. Why don’t we talk enough about the need of men to have male-friendships?

I use the word “friend” because this is the type of word that is used in the scriptures to describe the relationship that there was between Yehuda and Chirah. Not just once does it use this word, but twice in this chapter we hear of Chirah as Yehuda’s, “ray’ayhu / his friend.” (see Genesis 38:12, 20) The text also seems to suggest they might be business partners, as the first mention of friendship also states that they went up to sheer their sheep together as if this is their shared trade.

Now what type of friend is this that Yehuda has in him? I once heard the crass phrase: “Friends help you move. But real friends help you move bodies.” This here friendship of course was not that bad, but it was pretty close to being partners in crime. They were close friends that depended on each other and that held each other’s secrets. A friendship that in a time of need one can depend on the other for help in getting out of their mess. In each other they had a friend that wouldn’t turn away out of judgement or disgust.

Now this type of friendship is rare. In fact we don’t often hear of this type of interdependency in our tradition. Of this type of re’ah (רֵעַ), of this type of friend. One of the few places that we hear of this type of relationship is during the Sheva Brachot of the marriage ceremony. We pray that a couple should find in each other, “ahavah v’achavah, v’shalom v’rayut / love and fraternity, peace and friendship.”

Finding a good friend can often be just as hard as finding a good spouse. Finding someone in whom you can trust and even expose your most intimate things to is not at all easy.

What Yehuda needed in a friend was someone who would not just understand him as much as his wife did, but someone who was trustworthy enough to help him defuse a secret that one would normally keep from  their wife!

In quick summary, Yehuda had a childless widow of a daughter-in-law who desperately wanted a child. According to the custom it was her right to have a male brother of the husband’s clan help her conceive, in order to enable her to keep her status and land holdings through an heir. Because one of Yehuda’s sons did wrong by her and subsequently died on account of it, he refuses to let another of his immature boys get involved and thus she is left in a state of hopelessness.

However, we read here in this chapter that one day Yehuda came across this woman, Tamer his daughter-in-law. Her girlfriends had told her that he was coming into town, so she sought him out to again make her case. One night she was waiting on the side of the road for him as he was coming back from partying. We can only assume in a drunken stupor. Dressed in a veil, Yehuda mistakes Tamar for a prostitute. In desperation she goes along with it, and she does in fact conceive by this act.

The crux of the story is that Tamar is given a signet ring, a tassel and his staff as a guarantee for her payment of a goat that he is promising her. Though she takes these items knowing they will be needed to prove the paternity of the child she hopes to conceive.

When Yehuda comes to, of course he needs to follow through on his promise. And better yet he needs to claim his cherished items that can identify him as a player. So he sends his most intimate friend, Chirah the Adulami with his ransom.

In the end we read that eventually Yehuda learns about Tamar’s pregnancy in a complicated and dramatic plot twist. And he does claim the twin sons as his own, clearing her of any wrong doing and even praising her. He was the one that had twice acting unbecoming; first by his refusing his adult son to her for her redemption as a lady, and secondly by using her as an outlet for his very typical, macho sexual appetite.

It is true that on the surface we don’t see Yehuda repent of his sexual act. We are almost forced to accepted that men are cheaters, and that polyamory is the norm in that age. What he did was shameful, but according to their societal norms it wasn’t that wrong for a man. Though it is also true that the act he performed as an evil-impulse ended up manifesting as a chesed (a kindness) anyhow. Still this story does not put Yehuda in the greatest light. It’s not something to be proud of, rather something one would normally prefer to keep private.

So private is his wrong, this silly act of giving a his most important belongings away, that only his best friend can be trusted to help him clean up the mess. He sends his friend Churah the Adulami, to help him keep his word. In this friend he found someone who was not just a casual friend, but someone who was intimate enough to know the privy happenings. All the sexual secrets, the financial indiscretions, and the personal failures.

We might want to mark this man Chirah as an enabler. Or even as a lousy friend, considering we all know that friends are to set each other straight. They are the people who should be most bold and stern with us about our ways. Instead it looks like he is helping him out and trying to get him out of trouble. But really Chirah is helping him do right by this woman. Our sages will call him a tzadik for this, they see him as a righteous man.

The other reason we need to value the mention of Chirah is because he deserves the credit of being friend to the broken Yehuda after he hit rock bottom. Here Yehuda is holding guilt on his conscience, and the weight of the blame for the brothers that conspired with him. He is running out in the boarder regions, with no one else in the world willing to have him. Then Chirah not just took him in, but also became a friend that accepted him with no judgments. If anything his interest was to mitigate the situations of Yehuda’s folly.

The place that Yehuda was in both mentally and physically was very rough. He was in no place to be left alone. He was there because he was an outcast. In fact, the scriptures seem to suggest that is exactly the reason he was there. Yehuda is not the only person in the scriptures to be run away to Adullam. We know of one other great but lusty man who was exiled and hid there, it was Kind David himself.

In the book of Samuel we read of David’s escape from the pursuing King Saul, he was on the ruin in fear of his life. The scriptures tell us precisely that he “vayimaleit / he escaped;” he fled to the cave of Adullam, he was running for his life. (see 1 Samuel 22:1)

Now what do we know of this place and why people go there, other than it is remote and so obscure of a place that some people dwell in its caves? The scriptures tell us this about the locals that were willing to gather there, and about the people who were willing to venture to this rough side of the tracks:

“And every one that was in distress, and every one that was in debt, and every one that was discontented, gathered themselves unto him [David]; and he became captain over them; and there were with him about four hundred men.”

וַיִּתְקַבְּצוּ אֵלָיו כָּלאִישׁ מָצוֹק וְכָלאִישׁ אֲשֶׁרלוֹ נֹשֶׁא, וְכָלאִישׁ מַרנֶפֶשׁ, וַיְהִי עֲלֵיהֶם, לְשָׂר; וַיִּהְיוּ עִמּוֹ, כְּאַרְבַּע מֵאוֹת אִישׁ.

1 Samuel 22:2

Here we see that the place where Yehuda had previously gone to hide during his exile, David had to go there during his time of exile and trouble as well. This is skidrow, this is rock-bottom, that is what Adullam represents.

Though there are some differences between Yehuda’s situation and that of David. Yehuda was there merely to hide out, and it just so happened that while he was there he met a friend that helped him out and helped set him back on his feet. Yehuda had to be developed, and as strange as it seems this was where and how Hashem put someone in his path to accomplish that. A friend that kept him busy with companionship and enterprise, instead personal misery.

However, in David’s situation it was a little bit different. You see David was there with a purpose. He was there as part of a political and social revolution. He was feared by the king so he was on the run. Though while hiding out in the hood he made connections with all the people who were also in distress and helped make their cause his own. He partnered with the other people who were in distress and dire straights. The people who were crushed under the burden of debt, the people who were tired of the bitterness (mar-nefesh) in their society. He organized them into a band of brothers to fight for his noble cause, today we recognize that as a seminal part of our Jewish history.

Now through this we learn something interesting about friendships in general. The Rambam tells us that there is more to friendship than just having good friends or bad friends. He contends there are more levels to judge how deeply your friendship goes, and it’s more than just the distinction between personal friendship and professional camaraderie in his mind. The commentary of the Rambam for Avot tells us this:

“….as the men of mussar say, ‘Do not establish friendship according to your nature; establish friendship according to your friend’s nature.’

When each of the friends conducts himself according to this directive, then the desire of each one will be to fulfill the will of his colleague. Thus, they will both share a common goal. How appropriate is the statement of Aristotle, ‘A friend is another self’ (Ethics 9:4).

There are three types of friendship: friendship of function, friendship of pleasure, and friendship for the sake of a higher purpose. Examples of friendships of function include a business partnership, or the relationship between a general and his army.

There are two types of friendships of pleasure: friendship of enjoyment and friendship of security. An example of a friend of enjoyment is the relationship between men and women in marriage, and the like. A friendship of security is when a person has a friend on whom he can rely without withholding anything from him, neither deed nor word. He reveals to him all his matters – both good and bad – without worrying that he will shame him – either in private or in public. When a person is able to trust a friend to this extent, he will derive tremendous satisfaction from his conversation and his company.

A friendship for the sake of a higher purpose refers to a situation where both individuals desire and focus on a single objective: the Good. Each will desire to be assisted by his colleague to attain the good for them both. This is the type of friend [the mishnah] commanded us to acquire – for example, the relationship between a rav [rabbi, teacher] and his student, and between a student and his rav.”

Rambam (1135 – 1204 C.E.), Commentary on Avot 1:6

I think these words hold many truths for how we should select friendships, and how on many different levels we can develop that relationship. Our sages lead us to a very interesting perspective as to what we should define as a “quality friend.”

Discussion: One of the things that I feel is very much left out of the discussions these days is the topic of intimate male companionship and friendships. The deepness of relationships that men can have with each other.

In this day and age we thankfully have many lectures about women’s relationships. For instance, we are more than comfortably to talk about the friendship between Ruth and Naomi. Discussion groups in progressive shuls are more than willing to talk about “The Red Tent,” and jump into fantasy about women united through menses and bosoms. But you can’t seem to have a talk in the common culture anymore about friendships between men in the bible without it being branded as “gay.”

We are so uncomfortable about male intimacy and friendship, that people just rather assume the notable male relationships must be homosexual in nature. To me that not only sounds insecure and small-minded, but oddly homophobic to latently suggests something is queer about having close friends of the same-sex. We joke of these friendships as “bromances.”

Is it not possible for men to also have the same type of close emotional and biological ties we know exist for women? That males can also have good, quality, platonic, yet intimate friendships as well?

If anything, what we have learned today has taught us that are times we can indeed have platonic, same-sex friendships that are just as wild as those girls on “Sex and the City.” And yes, at times the love of a friend and the stimulation it sparks in us does seem to rate higher than even our marriage relationship might in certain areas. It’s just a different form of friendship, in a different context. But it is a very natural thing, and shouldn’t need to treated like a deviance.

How do you think the Jewish community should better engage the topic of the beauty of male friendships?

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