Shabbat Evening Service
From the desk of Rabbi David Lyon
Valentine’s Day, or what I like to call “Valenstein’s” Day has drawn a lot of attention to itself via Hallmark and other commercial venues. Few things are sacred anymore. That is, few things are set apart for the reasons they were initially intended. The blurred lines between the sacred and the profane challenge us to identify what is holy to you and what is holy to me.
As we prepare to eat our chocolates and express our love, I’d like to offer a suggestion about friendship that is true no matter what. Talmud teaches that we have three friends on whose company we rely.
The first friend is wealth. Talmud explains that wealth has its obvious limits. Most notably, wealth is a friend only as long as our good fortune might last. Years ago, a young man told me that he was at his peak. He was flying on private jets and the market was outstanding. Humbly, I reminded him that it’s not just a law of physics that what goes up must come down. He was not convinced; at least not until 2009, when the economy entered a great recession. Wealth has its purpose, including providing personal comfort, but it shouldn’t stand in the way of generosity and friendship found in more permanent sources.
The second friend is relatives. Relatives are our flesh and blood, but Talmud points out that relatives go only as far as the grave and leave us there. As friendly as relatives can be, it’s a relationship that has its boundaries. Death is a boundary that can’t be extended beyond our shared lifetime.
The third friend is good deeds. Talmud teaches that they are the finest friend, because they go beyond the grave. For many reasons, good deeds can be our friends. We often say that a good name endures beyond the grave. If good deeds can go beyond the grave, then they have an eternal quality about them. In the hereafter, they accompany us and, as the rabbis used to teach, the rewards we didn’t enjoy in this world are gifts we will enjoy in the world-to-come. Furthermore, good deeds remain as blessed memories to those who remember us on earth. This isn’t the first place that Talmud emphasizes the value of good deeds. More than wisdom, itself, deeds are the measure of who we are and how we will be remembered. Like a dear friend, good deeds go before us, stand for us, and remain long after we are gone.
On this Friendship Day, value your friends, your spouse or partner. Find in them what you value most. Naturally, it’s more than wealth, which is fleeting; eventually, it’s even more than just being relatives because time together is limited; therefore, it must be good deeds, which we treasure in others and ourselves for their enduring meaning.
I won’t discourage you from buying chocolates and flowers for the one you love. I won’t urge you to re-write your card to wish your lover “Happy VALENSTEIN’s” Day; but, I won’t stop highlighting what I value most about the people in my family, my circle of friends and the congregation I serve…it’s the good deeds we do for each other without hesitation, and the ones we do without even being asked. On that you and I can always rely. May our days and years together be long and well; and, when they are ended, may they be recalled for the good deeds we did for one another and the strangers among us. Then we may know that we knew the value of a friend, not for a day, but for ever.