Mentors, Friends and Giving Each Other the Benefit of The Doubt
יְהוֹשֻׁעַ בֶּן פְּרַחְיָה וְנִתַּאי הָאַרְבֵּלִי קִבְּלוּ מֵהֶם. יְהוֹשֻׁעַ בֶּן פְּרַחְיָה אוֹמֵר, עֲשֵׂה לְךָ רַב, וּקְנֵה לְךָ חָבֵר, וֶהֱוֵי דָן אֶת כָּל הָאָדָם לְכַף זְכוּת
Pirkei Avot 1:7 teaches, “Joshua ben Perahiah and Nittai the Arbelite received [the oral tradition] from them. Joshua ben Perahiah used to say: appoint for yourself a teacher, and acquire for yourself a friend and judge everyone with the scale weighted in his favor.”
Navigating life is hard. There are so many challenges we face. Joshua ben Perahiah dispenses valuable advice that applies both in the “real” world and at camp.
Appoint for yourself a teacher: When we are growing up, our teachers often pick for us. However, we look for role models to emulate; finding a great mentor can literally change our lives. It isn’t always easy to know who might make a good mentor, but I think it is important to look for character above knowledge. Find someone who exemplifies the qualities you admire and the knowledge will follow.
I have had great mentors in my life and it has made all the difference. I met Rabbi Mitch Cohen, the immediate past National Ramah Director, when I was a first-year counselor at Ramah in Ojai, California over thirty years ago. I was initially attracted by his happy and kind way with everyone and by his ability to empathize. Over the years, I learned so much more from him about leadership, and especially about how relationships are at the center of leadership. I am literally where I am today because of him.
Acquire for yourself a friend: The word “acquire” is an interesting choice. Do we buy friends? My late grandfather, Macey Capin (another mentor), used to say, “to have a friend you must be a friend.” I think this is what Joshua ben Perhaiah meant. Do things for other people and be considerate of them and you will acquire friends. Engaging with a friend – whether studying Torah or working out – makes it more likely that you will follow through and hold each other accountable, and that you will have more fun doing it.
Weighting the scale in other people’s favor: This is a principle that the world desperately needs right now. We are so quick to judge and get angry with others. We assume the worst and summon righteous indignation. Even while ranting about this, I too am guilty. We simply don’t know each person’s life experiences. Let’s give each other the benefit of the doubt. If someone does something that bothers us, let’s summon the courage to engage with them. Cancel culture is not Jewish. Be open to the idea that people can surprise you. Many great mentors and friends are found after initial conflict or disagreement. By not giving up on others we sometimes find strength to continue to believe in ourselves. Shabbat Shalom.