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Rabbi's Blog

rabbi 05 smallsf badge lgRabbi Joel Landau  ( has been the Rabbi of Adath Israel since May 2013. He was ordained by the Chief Rabbinate in Jerusalem and has served previously as a congregational Rabbi in Charleston, South Carolina and Irvine, California. A full biography of Rabbi Landau is available here.

Julie Beck spent three years studying friendships of various kinds and chronicling them in The Atlantic. She did this because friendships are an unusual type of relationship in that there are no real rules that define what a friendship is.

After three years, Beck discovered six components that make a friendship work. 

1) Accumulation —- it takes a lot of time spent together for people to become friends. 

2) Attention — finding friends requires paying attention to opportunities to be friendly with someone. 

3) Intention — beyond finding someone that you would enjoy spending time with, an effort must be made to invest in the friendship. 

4) Ritual — having a regularly scheduled get together such as a softball game or book club can certainly cement friendships. 

5) Imagination — friendships have no rules, so finding something adventurous or out-of-the-box to do together can cement friendships.

The sixth is what Beck calls “grace.” It is something we have all experienced in one way or another in a friendship. We have all attended a wedding or some other event and seen someone who was a good friend earlier in our lives, but we lost touch. Grace is what allows us to reconnect quickly as if that gap of years or decades didn’t exist. There is a lot more grace in friendships than there is in our more formal relationships.

A similar concept to her sixth principle may be found in this week’s parasha.

The Gemara, Shabbos, 116a, addresses the unusual, reversed letters in our parasha, two nunim that bracket the verses of Vayehi Binsoa… and Uvinucho Yomar… It explains that these verses were removed from their original location and placed between two disconcerting episodes where our ancestors’ behavior left a lot to be desired. 

The first instance was their hasty departure from Mt. Sinai (Numbers 10:33), which the Midrash describes as being like children running away from school at the end of the day. The second occurrence is in Numbers 11:1: “The people took to seeking complaints, and it was evil in the ears of the L-rd. The L-rd heard and His anger flared…” 

These two mishaps were the beginning of a series of missteps that we find throughout the rest of Sefer Bamidbar. Why then does the Torah feel the need to create a break between the first two mishaps? Is the Torah trying to hide the connection between the two events? 

R. Gedalyahu Axelrod (1941 – present) in his Migdal Tzofim suggests that the Torah is trying to teach us that even when we seem to hit a downward spiral, HaShem is ready to take us back. 

Therefore, when we look back on the events of Sefer Bamidbar and see the series of mishaps, we also see that immediately after the spiral began, HaShem is still with us even when we sin.

We cannot really describe our relationship with HaShem as “friendship.” We commonly use the symbolism of a child or a servant. Yet the “grace” that Beck describes is apparent in our relationship with HaShem. He is ready to reconnect with those who haven’t stayed connected in a long time. 

Perhaps this message isn’t only relevant to those who are looking to reconnect. It is also relevant to the more formal relationships that we have in our own lives. If HaShem can offer the “grace” to allow those who lost touch to reconnect, we should also try to be graceful towards others that we have disconnected from and try to reconnect.