What do Chazal mean when they say או חברותא או מיתותא – Either a friend or death (Ta’anis 23a) ?
There’s a statement או חברותא או מיתותא – either I have a chaver or I don’t want to live, I want death. What does that mean? The answer is that we learned עשה לך רב וקנה לך חבר (Avos 1:6). Make for yourself a Rebbi. A Rebbi is very important. But a good friend is a treasure. You should be willing to pay money for a good friend. It says הרבה למדתי מרבותי – I learned very much from my teachers, ומחברי יותר מרבותי – and I learned even more from my chaveirim than from my teachers (Ta’anis 7a).
Good chaveirim change you. It’s remarkable how a person is transformed if he associates with good people. Even one good chaver can change your life. But a chaver can ruin you as well. The מסילת ישרים says that before you choose a chaver, you should examine him more carefully than you examine the food that you’re about to eat. Let’s say you’re about to eat some food that you have some suspicion about. So you take a look, maybe there’s some dead fleas inside the food. Maybe there’s a hair inside the food. Whatever it is, before you choose a chaver be very, very careful. A bad chaver is worse than dead fleas and some hair in your food. Much worse.
But having a good chaver – you’ll be amazed at what it can do for you. The chaver becomes part of you. It’s so much easier to correct things in yourself and to gain good qualities if you have a good chaver.
And of course, there’s one more מדריגה, one more level. ומתלמידי יותר מכולם. When you teach others, when you teach people things, it makes an impression on you. As you tell people things, you start thinking, “Maybe I should listen, too.” It makes an impression on you.
So הרבה למדתי מרבותי, no question about that. You can gain tremendous things from a Rebbi. עשה לך רב. But you must know that a good chaver can be even better than a Rebbi. ומחבירי יותר מרבותי. And therefore, קנא לך חבר – You should be willing to pay money for a good friend. A good friend can change you forever. Someone who will help you become better. That’s what life is for, to become better. So או חברותא או מיתותא. You’re alive right now for the purpose of making something out of yourself. So make sure to find that good friend who will criticize you and help you, and make you a better person. If you have a wife who criticizes you, you’re a lucky man. It’s a treasure. No matter what, you must have a good friend who helps you become a better person. If not, what’s the point of being alive?!
TAPE # E-155