Say Little, Do Much: Friendship
By RABBI JOSEPH H. PROUSER
Patrick Henry famously prayed: “Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!” His celebrated concluding line echoed Joseph Addsion’s 1713 play “Cato”: “The hand of fate is over us… It is now a time to talk of aught but chains or conquest, liberty or death.” Henry’s either-or formulation, however, can be traced to a folk saying cited in the Talmud: “O Chevruta O Mituta” – “Friendship or death!” (Ta’anit 23A.
The Founding Fathers understood that liberty – self-determination and the right to be different, to dissent – gives life its meaning. The Sages esteemed friendship as such a life-giving force. But “Chevruta” means more than mere amity. “Chevruta” refers to a trusted study partner, with whom one can debate, argue, and disagree… together with whom one grapples for meaning. A good “Chevruta” brings us closer to the truth by challenging our reasoning and conclusions, while ultimately embracing the same sacred cause.
The representative government for which Henry fought also relies on the ability of two parties, ultimately serving the same sacred cause, to grapple for the truth – together – through rigorous debate and disagreement. “O Chevruta O Mituta” – Such collegial partnership is essential for life, the Rabbis taught. It is also essential to liberty.
(Rabbi Joseph H. Prouser is the rabbi of Temple Emanuel of North Jersey and the National Chaplain of the National Jewish Committee on Scouting.)