Rabbi Mendel Rabinowitz
Friendship that is not based on any specific thing will survive. (Pirkei Avot 5:19)
כל אהבה שאינה תלויה בדבר, אינה בטלה לעולם. (אבות ה:יט)
The worldwide lockdown due to the coronavirus has highlighted a number of issues. One of the things that it has highlighted is society's need for friendship and interpersonal relationships.
Already thousands of years ago, our great Sages gave guidance as to Judaism's take on this topic. The Mishna in Ethics of the Fathers1 teaches us that if "friendship is based on any one thing, then the friendship will dissolve as soon as its basis disappears." On the other hand, we are taught that "friendship that is not based on any specific thing will survive."
The Mishna continues to elaborate on the meaning of healthy friendship by means of an example. David and Jonathan had a friendship that withstood family pressures. Jonathan's father, King Saul, hated David and planned to kill him. Jonathan still remained loyal to his friend against his father's wishes.
Another Mishna2 speaks of "acquiring a friend." This is not to be understood as a financial transaction, but rather the mutual giving of oneself to another.
True friends are able to disagree. Hillel and Shammai argued on Halachic issues, but were definitely considered to be friends. Their disagreements were in order to promote a greater understanding of Torah, and not for personal gain. A person who is unable to tell his/her friend that he/she has made a mistake cannot be considered to be a true friend.
Friendship plays such an important role in Judaism that the Shulchan Aruch3 discusses the need for reciting a blessing if one has not seen a particularly good friend for a period of time (30 days or 12 months).
Shavuot is always associated with communal learning. This year, our learning will be with our immediate family and hopefully we will soon be able to resume communal davening and shiurim with our friends and community.
Wishing you all a Chag Sameach.
Shulchan Aruch, O.C. 225:1