Tribute To A Rabbi, A Friend – A Weekly Letter From Rabbi Davis – January 31, 2020
I’d like to dedicate this letter in memory of two rabbis who died a few weeks ago.
In Pirkei Avot 1:6 we are taught: “find yourself a rabbi, acquire a friend.”
Find yourself a Rabbi
Rabbi Joshua Stampher was the rabbi of Neveh Shalom, the large Conservative synagogue in Portland where I grew up. Rabbi Stampher died at age 98. Just a few days earlier, he was teaching his regular Talmud class.
Rabbi Stampher was an institution builder. He grew the congregation. He established Portland’s Jewish historical society, the Jewish studies program at Portland State University. He established Camp Solomon Schechter, a Jewish summer camp in the North West and on and on.
I got to know Rabbi Stampher when I was applying to rabbinical school. I had to pass a test over ten pages of Talmud. It was my first encounter with rabbinic literature, so I spent the summer learning with him. I still remember the wise, gentle rabbi taking me through the gemara step by step.
Acquire for yourself a Friend
Rabbi Adam Feldman was my classmate, rabbinical school roommate and friend. He died suddenly and far too young. Adam was rabbi of the Princeton Jewish Center where he was beloved by his family and congregation.
Rabbi Feldman was a builder of friendships. He made you feel special. As a rabbi and a friend, he always said, “What can I do for you today?” He was there for you with his big heart and friendly disposition.
The relationship of rabbi to student may be thought of as hierarchal whereas that of friends is between two equals. But there is one way in which the two are similar.
In his commentary on Pirkei Avot, Rambam quotes Aristotle explaining that there are three kinds of friends: a friend for benefit, a friend for enjoyment and a friend for virtue.
A friend for benefit is like the friendship of co-workers or business partners. In this case, circumstances rather than a deep personal connection bring two people together.
A friend for enjoyment is a friend for pleasure and a friend with whom one can confide. Important as it is, there is no common goal beyond the relationship itself.
Finally, a friend for virtue is where friends share a common intention and that is, “the good.” Each wants to help and be helped in reaching this state. This happens when there is a confluence of aspirations to lofty values that not only creates a working partnership but binds souls together.
This third kind is the friendship referred to in Pirkei Avot. And it follows “find yourself a rabbi”- because they share a common desire: The love of rabbi for his student and student for his rabbi, like the love of two friends encourages both to live up to the best in themselves, to seek the good and to be a blessing to others.
In my case, my study with Rabbi Stampher led to my friendship with Adam. And I feel blessed to have had both in my life. May their memories be a blessing.
Rabbi Alexander Davis