One of the more perplexing of Rebbe Nachman’s statements, at least for me, is the one where he says that the world will be amazed at the love that exists between his students.

To be blunt, I’ve been on the outskirts of different Breslev communities and groups for years, and I haven’t been feeling the lurve particularly strongly. But a few days’ back, I read something said by Rav Levi Yitzhak Bender, in a new set of books I picked up from the Meah Shearim Breslev Bookstore called: ‘Words of Faith’ that explained what’s really going on.

There, Rav Bender explained that to friends:

“it’s forbidden to tell what passed over you.” He continues: “Know this: To join a friend in personal matters – especially sins and iniquities, does much damage.

“However, it is fitting that friends encourage each other with soul-restoring words. But chalila to dig after mistakes – even if you mean well. This is absolutely prohibited.

“We often see people dig for another’s wounds. This is a very great defect. Relations between people should only be in chizuk, happy talk, encouraging words or Torah and doing good. And to seek the good points in each other. But it is forbidden to make sins known – except to Hashem Yitbarach alone.”

The real definition of ‘friendship’

This was a tremendous revelation to me, because I’d always believed that the hallmark of a close friend was that you could bare your soul before them, tell them everything going on with you, and that this would only strengthen your bond and connection.

Trouble was, in real life normally the opposite would happen:

It would get far too intense too fast; I’d find people dumping their biggest, most heart-wrenching problems straight in my lap; I’d get overwhelmed by all their troubles; and then sooner or later, I’d just want to run away.

This has happened so many times, and yet, until I read the wise words of Rav Levi Yitzhak Bender, it never occurred to me that my paradigm for true friendship was warped.

True friendship doesn’t mean you know all the deepest secrets, and darkest corners of your friend’s life. Rav Bender summed it up like this:

“I go in my way, he goes in his way. I have no interest to check after how he runs his personal life. What I have to say to him is only this:

My Brother – Be strong! Hold on and do not be discouraged by anything!…

“This is the whole point of speaking amongst friends. To unearth and illuminate your friend’s unique good points. And to shine to him from your special point. But not more than this.”

There’s a load more to say, and I may well come back to this topic in another post, but in the meantime, these few simple sentences have solved a massive difficulty, or kushia, that I’ve been wrestling with for years.

As Rav Bender makes clear, heart-to-hearts, where you spend a few hours moaning about your finances, or your husband, or your kids, or your work, or your in-laws, actually don’t  build friendships and people – they do exactly the opposite.

Just I didn’t know.

Now that I do, I’m going to ask God to help me avoid these types of ‘deep and meaningful’ conversations that always seem so holy and healthy, but usually lead to me getting enmeshed in trying to solve other people’s problems for them.

That’s not my place. That’s not my job. What I do need to do is to tell my friends and acquaintances:

My sister – be strong! Hold on and do not be discouraged by anything!!

And then, politely change the subject.

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