In the vast manuscript of our lives, the pen is indeed our friend, diligently inscribing wisdom into the fabric of our minds and etching profound understanding deep within our hearts. * On the Hayom Yom entry for 14 Menachem Av.
Friendship is a powerful force in our lives. But what does it really mean to have a friend? The Mishnah tells us to “acquire a friend for yourself.” This means more than just making friends. It means creating relationships that help us grow spiritually.
Rabbi Ovadia of Bartenura, a medieval commentator, explains that this means actively engaging with others to learn and improve our character. He writes, “Acquire a friend for yourself to consult with, to study with… and to set you on the straight path when you err.” In other words, we should seek out friends who can help us learn and grow.
Maimonides, a famous Torah scholar, also saw friendship as a way to grow and develop spiritually. In his treatise on ethics, the “Shemoneh Perakim” or “Eight Chapters,” he wrote that we should spend time with wise people, because we are influenced by our friends. He stated: “In whose company should one spend time and associate? With a wise individual engaged in wisdom, or with an ignorant one absorbed in worldly affairs? For a person is influenced by his friends and tends to adopt the ways of his companions.” So, according to Maimonides, we should choose our friends carefully.
This idea is found in the Hayom Yom entry for 14 Menachem Av. It says “v’kaneh l’cha chaver,” or “the quill shall be your friend.” This is a play on words, as the original phrase in the Mishnah is “knei lecha chaver,” meaning “acquire a friend for yourself.” By changing the vowels, the phrase becomes “kaneh l’cha chaver,” meaning “the quill shall be your friend.” This means that we should have a deep emotional connection to what we learn. Learning should be a journey that helps us grow and change. The quill represents knowledge and learning. By making the quill our friend, we can deepen our understanding and connection to the material we study.
Writing is an important part of this journey. The Torah tells us to write down its teachings and pass them on. In Deuteronomy 31:19, Moses receives divine instructions to commit the teachings to writing and pass them on to the Children of Israel. The Talmud expands on this commandment, suggesting that every Jew should transcribe their own Torah. Maimonides further clarifies in the Mishneh Torah that every male Jew should produce a Torah scroll, either personally or through a commissioned scribe. Writing helps us preserve and share religious teachings.
However, wisdom in Jewish thought is not just about understanding things intellectually. As Deuteronomy 30:14 says, Torah teachings should touch our hearts and guide our actions. This integration of intellect and emotion is a cornerstone of Hasidic thought. It is also reflected in Kabbalah’s concepts of “Yichud Ila’ah” and “Yichud Tata’ah,” which symbolize the harmony of intellectual and emotional aspects of divine service.
As we anticipate the arrival of Moshiach, the importance of personal transformation becomes even more pronounced. Each act of learning and every emotional connection we forge propels us towards an improved version of ourselves and a more perfect world. This aligns harmoniously with Isaiah's prophecy for the Messianic era (11:9), where "knowledge of God will cover the earth as water fills the ocean," symbolizing a time of universal enlightenment and spiritual awareness.
Therefore, the principle "v'kaneh l'cha chaver," translated as "the quill shall be your friend," represents more than a playful turn of phrase. It's a profound encapsulation of the beautiful dance between intellect and emotion in the pursuit of wisdom. It emphasizes the nurturing of personal growth and transformation, inching us ever closer to ultimate redemption in the era of Moshiach.
So let's not forget the symbolic significance of the humble quill, a timeless tool of knowledge and wisdom. In the vast manuscript of our lives, the quill is indeed our faithful friend, diligently inscribing wisdom into the fabric of our minds and etching profound understanding deep within our hearts.