What to Look For in the Assembly of Friends

Article No. 30, Tav-Shin-Mem-Het, 1987-88

Our sages said (Avot, Chapter 1:6), “Make for yourself a rav [teacher], buy yourself a friend, and judge every person to the side of merit.”

We should understand the attachment of “Judge every person to the side of merit” to “Buy yourself a friend.” Also, it is written in the book Matan Torah (The Giving of the Torah, p 30), that the Mitzva [commandment/good deed], “Love your friend as yourself,” is in order to achieve the love of the Creator, which is Dvekut [adhesion] with Him. He writes, “It is reasonable to think that the part of the Torah that deals with man’s relationship with his friend is better capable of bringing one to the desired goal. This is because the work in Mitzvot [plural of Mitzva] between man and God is fixed and specific, and is not demanding, and one becomes easily accustomed to it, and everything that is done out of habit is no longer useful. But the Mitzvot between man and man are changing and irregular, and demands surround him wherever he turns. Hence, their cure is much more certain and their aim is closer.”

This means that man must come to be rewarded with equivalence of form, meaning that all his thoughts and desires will be only for the benefit of the Creator and not for his own benefit. This stems from the correction of the Tzimtzum [restriction]. It means that from the perspective of the Creator, He created the worlds with the intention of wanting to do good to His creations. As our sages explain, the Creator said to the ministering angels that the creation of the world is like a king who has abundance, but no guests.

In other words, He has pleasure when the guests dine at His place, but to avoid shame, there was a correction that they must receive delight and pleasure with the aim of delighting the Creator. But the first degree is bestowing in order to bestow. One should enjoy while bestowing, just as the Creator enjoys. It is as our sages said (The Zohar, VaYera, Item 399), “There was no such joy before the Creator since the day the world was created as the joy that He is destined to rejoice with the righteous in the future.”

We see that on the day when the world was created, there was great joy to the Creator. In other words, He had great joy in wanting to bestow. It follows that if a person performs acts of bestowal but feels no joy, there is no equivalence of form here. Although in the act he is bestowing and engaging in love of others, the act should be with joy, like the joy that the Creator has. Thus, the equivalence in joy is missing here.

Hence, there are two things that one must do: 1) Even though the body does not wish to work in bestowal, it must be forced. However, there is a rule that when a person does things coercively, he cannot be happy, since he would be happier if he did not have to do those deeds. Still, man must work coercively. This is called “coercing and subduing the evil in him.” However, the joy that should come with each act of bestowal is missing here. When it comes to joy, one cannot force himself to be happy in a place where there is an act of coercion. Joy is a result of a person’s enjoyment, and where there is pleasure, “coercion” is out of the picture. Hence, no joy or pleasure comes from coercion. 2) We say that we need joy for the work of the Creator, and as we said, joy is only a result of something that a person enjoys. Thus, since man can only perform acts of coercion, this is called “an action.” An act is something to which the mind does not agree. It is considered that when one begins to coerce himself, he comes into a state of “He who comes to purify.”

Thus, what else is missing? Only something that will evoke his gladness. We should interpret about that that this is given to him from above. This is called “He is aided.” In what is the aid? The Zohar says, “In a holy soul.” When one is rewarded with this, he has joy. It follows that when we say that one should work with joy, it means that through one’s actions, he should evoke the awakening from above, for only by help from above can he enjoy while engaging in acts of bestowal.

Indeed, there is a question here: “Why is it necessary to perform acts of bestowal with joy?” The reason is simple: There is no equivalence of form here because when the Creator gives, He feels joy. But if when man gives and has no joy, the equivalence of form is absent.

However, there is an even graver issue here than equivalence of form. When a person is in a state of sadness, when he sees his life as pointless because wherever he looks, he sees only black—in corporeality as well as in spirituality—it is like a person who wears dark glasses. Wherever he looks, he sees only darkness.

In that state a person is considered heretical in regard to the Creator’s guidance, since he cannot say that the Creator leads His world as The Good Who Does Good.

In that state, he is considered faithless. Thus, here the issue is no longer equivalence of form, but rather faithlessness, since he is in a state of heresy. It follows that man mustalways be in gladness and believe above reason that everything that the Creator does is done only in benevolence. But we should also believe that this is what we need—to believe above reason.

By our reason, it seems it would be better if the Creator treated us with open guidance. But Baal HaSulam said that we must not say that the Creator cannot give everything into the vessels of reception, called “within reason,” meaning that the corporeal body, too, will understand that the Creator treats the whole world only with benevolence.

Why did He choose specifically the Kelim [vessels] of above reason? The Creator chose those Kelim because they are indeed the best, for by them we achieve the real wholeness, and then the verse, “And you will love the Lord your God with all your heart” will come true. Our sages said, “With both your inclinations—the good inclination and the evil inclination.”

At that time, the body, too, feels the delight and pleasure that the Creator gives to the creatures and then there is no need to believe above reason. It follows that the main requirement is for man to be in gladness while doing the work of bestowal, when he does not see what self-reception—called “within reason”—would receive from it, since otherwise he is in a state of heresy.

It follows that one must perform the holy work above reason because these are the Kelim that are suitable for bringing man to wholeness. It was said earlier that only above reason can he take pleasure in the guidance of the Creator, which is in the form of benevolence. And this is called “right.”

As Baal HaSulam said, one must try to walk on the right line, called “faith above reason,” and picture that he has already been rewarded with complete faith in the Creator, that his organs already feel that the Creator leads the whole world in benevolence.

Thus, we should ask, “Why must we walk on the left line, too, if the right line is the most important? What is the purpose of the left line?” The answer is that it is to know our state within reason—the measure of our faith, how much Torah we have acquired, and how we feel the Creator during prayer, etc.

And then we come to feel that we are in utter lowliness, the lowest possible. This is the reason why, when we later shift to the right line, we have the work above reason. In other words, as the left line shows us our state within reason, here there is room to go above reason. But if we were always in the right line, it would not be regarded as right, but as a single line.

In other words, we would think that this is truly where we are, and we would think that we are truly within reason, in the perfect Gadlut [greatness/adulthood]. But in truth, only above reason are we in wholeness; hence, when we have the two lines, we can say that there is the matter of above reason, which is the right line.

It follows that the right line helps the left line because once he pictures himself already in gladness, enjoying the perfection of his work, when he shifts to the left line he sees that he is in a world of total darkness. That is, he sees and feels that he is still immersed in self-love and that he has no hope of exiting self-love.

Then there is room for prayer from the bottom of the heart. The state of the right was when he imagined being in a state that he pictured for himself the perfection of the work. In other words, he believed above reason in the commandment of faith in the teacher, who told him to go in that state, although his reason told him, “Why do you compare your situation to that of a person who has already been rewarded with complete faith when you know that you are in the lowest possible baseness that can ever be?” He feels that he is in a state of lowliness that is unbecoming to a person who wants to ever be a servant of the Creator.

And afterwards he moves to the right line, and the left gives him room to work in the right line. However, we must remember that anything that is a path of truth is hard to walk on without effort. Therefore, after those two lines he arrives at the middle line called “the Creator gives him the soul.” And then he comes into complete faith, specifically through God’s salvation. But by nature, man cannot achieve this by himself.

With all the above, we can understand the matter of the assembly of friends. When they gather, what should they discuss? First, the goal must be clear to everyone—this gathering must yield the result of love of friends, that each of the friends will be awakened to love the other, which is called “love of others.” However, this is only a result. To beget this lovely offspring, actions must be taken to produce the love.

And concerning love, there are two forms: 1) Natural love, for which one does not have to exert. He should only be careful not to spoil nature. 2) One that comes by one doing good things to another. There is nature in that, too, since one who gives a present to another causes him to love him. Hence, when a group of people gathers and wishes to work together on love of friends, they must all help one another as much as they can.

And there are many discernments about that, since not everyone is the same, meaning that what one needs, the other does not. However, there is one thing in which all are equal: Each and every one of the friends needs high spirits. That is, when the friends are not in a good mood, they are not all the same in their needs. Rather, each has his own reason for being unhappy.

Therefore, each one must contemplate how he can bring about a good mood to the other. Thus, they should be careful and avoid discussing things that can bring sadness to the society, for by that one causes the others to feel bad. And then, after he goes home, he will ask himself, “What have I gained by going to the society? To know that I am in a state of lowliness and that I should regret it? It is as though I went to the society so they would bring me into a state of sadness. In that case, it was a waste of time. It would probably be better if I did not go to them.” Then he probably says, “The next time I have to go to the society, I’ll make up excuses to avoid them.”

It therefore follows that each one should try to bring into the society a spirit of life and hopefulness, and infuse energy into the society. Thus, each of the friends will be able to tell himself, “Now I am starting a clean slate in the work.” In other words, before he came to the society, he was disappointed with the progress in the work of the Creator, but now the society has filled him with life and hopefulness.

Thus, through society he obtained the confidence and strength to overcome because now he feels that he can achieve wholeness. And all his thoughts—that he was facing a high mountain that could not be conquered, and that these were truly formidable obstructions—now he feels that they are nothing. And he received it all from the power of the society because each and every one tried to instill a spirit of encouragement and the presence of a new atmosphere in the society.

But what can one do when he feels that he is in a state of sadness—both in terms of the corporeal state and the spiritual state—and the time when he must go to the society has come? And yet, our sages said, “A worry in a man’s heart? Let him speak of it with others.” In other words, he should tell his friends, and perhaps they can offer some help.

But if this is so, why do we say that everyone should bring high spirits into the society when one has none? Moreover, there is a rule that “one cannot give that which one does not have.” Thus, what should he do to give something to the society that will give high spirits to the society?

Indeed, there is no other way but for man to walk on the right line. Thus, before he goes to the love of friends, he should read Baal HaSulam’s essay (Shamati, No. 40) where he clarifies what is the right line, that this is the meaning of above reason. And he should draw strength from there so that when he comes to the society, each and every one will more or less be able to infuse a spirit of life, and by that, the whole of society will feel joy and strength, and confidence.

During the assembly, it is forbidden to evoke the left line. Only when one is alone is he permitted to use the left line, but not more than half an hour a day. But the essence of man’s work is to go specifically by the right line, as is written (Shamati, No. 40). But two people together must not speak of the left, for only thus can they receive assistance from the society.

But the worst is when a person comes to the society and sees that the whole of society is in a state of decline, so how can he be strengthened by them? At that time, he must judge everyone to the side of merit.

Now we can understand what we asked about the proximity of “Buy yourself a friend” and “Judge every person to the side of merit.” With the above written, we can understand that when one wishes to acquire something from the society, he should judge everyone to the side of merit. Then he can acquire from the friends so they will help him in the work, since he has someone from whom to receive. But when he sees that he is far above the whole of society, from whom will he receive? Our sages came and said about this, “Judge every person to the side of merit.”

It follows that the main reason why a person needs to buy a friend and work in love of others is that thus he can be rewarded with the love of the Creator. But the friends should primarily speak together about the greatness of the Creator, because according to the greatness of the Creator that one assumes, to that extent he naturally annuls himself before the Creator. It is as we see in nature that the small one annuls before the great one, and this has nothing to do with spirituality. Rather, this conduct applies even among secular people.

In other words, the Creator made nature this way. Thus, the friends’ discussions of the greatness of the Creator awaken a desire and yearning to annul before the Creator because he begins to feel longing and desire to bond with the Creator. And we should also remember that to the extent that the friends can appreciate the importance and greatness of the Creator, we should still go above reason, meaning that the Creator is higher than any greatness of the Creator that one can imagine.

We should say that we believe above reason that He leads the world in a benevolent guidance, and if one believes that the Creator wants only man’s best, it makes a person love the Creator until he is rewarded with “And you will love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul.” And this is what a person must receive from the friends.

And in the matter of obtaining greatness, it should be obtained specifically through the society. It is as it is written in the book Matan Torah (The Giving of the Torah, p 141), where he speaks concerning the teacher and the student. It is the same with regard to the greatness of the Creator. He writes, “Obtaining the greatness depends entirely on the environment, and a single person cannot do a thing about it whatsoever. Yet, there are two conditions to obtaining the greatness: 1) Always listen and assume appreciation of the environment to the extent that they exaggerate. 2) The environment should be great, as it is written, ‘In the multitude of people is the king's glory.’

“To receive the first condition, each student must feel that he is the smallest among all the friends. In that state, one can receive the appreciation of the greatness from everyone, since the great cannot receive from a smaller one, much less be impressed by his words. Rather, only the small is impressed by the appreciation of the great.

“And for the second condition, each student must extol the virtues of each friend and cherish him as though he were the greatest in the generation. Then the environment will affect him as a sufficiently great environment, since quality is more important than quantity.”

However, what should a friend do if he needs help from his friends? We have said above that it is forbidden to speak of bad things that cause sadness at the assembly of friends. The answer is that one should tell a close friend, and that friend will speak to the society, but not at the time of the assembly of friends. In other words, he can speak to the whole of society together, but not during the regular assembly of friends. Instead, he can arrange for a special meeting in favor of the friend who needs assistance.

And regarding “Buy yourself a friend,” we should interpret that “Buy” means that he must be paid, and through the payment he buys him. What does he pay him? We can say that payment is received in return for exertion. In other words, sometimes a person wishes to buy, for example, a nice closet, which is worth 2,000 dollars. He tells the seller, “Since I have no money to pay, but I heard that you are looking for an employee for two weeks, I will work for the amount that I have to pay you in return for the money for the closet,” and the seller will probably agree. Thus, we see that the payment can be by exchange.

It is the same with love of friends. It is a great effort when one should judge the friends to the side of merit, and not everyone is ready for it.

Sometimes, it is even worse. At times, a person sees that his friend is disrespectful toward him. Even worse, he heard a slanderous rumor, meaning he heard from a friend that that friend, who is called so and so, said about him things that are not nice for friends to say about each other. Now he must subdue himself and judge him to the side of merit. This, indeed, is a great effort. It follows that through the exertion, he gives the payment, which is even more important than a payment of money.

However, if that person slanders him, where will his friend muster the strength to love him? He knows for certain that he hates him, or he would not slander him, so what is the point in subduing himself and judging him to the side of merit?

The answer is that love of friends that is built on the basis of love of others, by which they can achieve the love of the Creator, is the opposite of what is normally considered love of friends. In other words, love of others does not mean that the friends will love me. Rather, it is I who must love the friends. For this reason, it makes no difference if the friend slanders him and must certainly hate him. Instead, a person who wishes to acquire love of others needs the correction of loving the other.

Therefore, when a person makes the effort and judges him to the side of merit, it is a Segula [remedy/power/virtue], where by the toil that a person makes, which is called “an awakening from below,” he is given strength from above to be able to love all the friends without exception.

This is called “Buy yourself a friend,” that a person should make an effort to obtain love of others. And this is called “labor,” since he must exert above reason. Reasonably thinking, “How is it possible to judge another person to the side of merit when his reason shows him his friend’s true face, that he hates him?” What can he tell the body about that? Why should he submit himself before his friend?

The answer is that he wishes to achieve Dvekut [adhesion] with the Creator, called “equivalence of form,” meaning not to think of his own benefit. Thus, why is subduing a difficult thing? The reason is that he must revoke his own worth, and the whole of the life that he wishes to live will be only with the consideration of his ability to work for others’ benefit, beginning with love of others, between man and man, through the love of the Creator.

Hence, here is a place where he can say that anything he does is without any self-interest, since by reason, the friends are the ones who should love him, but he overcomes his reason, goes above reason, and says, “It is not worth living for myself.” And although one is not always at a degree where he is able to say so, this is nonetheless the purpose of the work. Thus, he already has something to reply to the body.

It therefore follows that before each friend comes to the assembly of friends, he must contemplate what he can give to the society to uplift the spirit of life in it. In that, there is no difference between one who is unschooled or schooled, since the thought he thinks, though he may not know anything, he must pray to the Creator to help him and believe that the Creator hears the prayers.

Back to top