For the week ending 31 January 2009 / 6 Shevat 5769

Friend Request

by Rabbi Yirmiyahu Ullman -
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From: Anonymous in NYC

Dear Rabbi,

I have been friends with a guy since we were kids. We were brought up traditional/modern orthodox. In high school, we were not exactly the best example of Jewish behavior. Now we go to college together and room in the same dorm. I can’t say we’ve gotten any better, but I’m telling him I want to start getting my act together and move back toward observance. He does not want to go there at all, and also says we have to room together next year as well. I might agree if I felt it would have a good influence on him, but I feel the opposite would happen – he would draw me into things that I’m trying to get away from. If I don’t room with him, for one thing I don’t know how I could tell him since we’ve been such good friends for so long, and also how could I let him down as a friend. Please give me advice on what you think I should do, because I’m really torn.

Dear Anonymous,

While it’s not acceptable to have gone astray, it’s understandable. A young person is greatly influenced by what’s going on outside himself, particularly when there are so many changes taking place inside him. However, for that reason, it’s completely natural and correct that as you’re maturing and settling down inside, you intuitively feel a desire to return to the proper path. You clearly can’t keep partying forever – that won’t get you anywhere – and you’re starting to realize that you have to make something of yourself not only as a person but as a Jew.

Your friend may or may not get there. As a friend, you should do what you can to influence him in the right direction. But there’s no guarantee that he wants that now, or that it will help. On the other hand, you’re at the beginning of a sensitive stage where you could go either way, and might ultimately fall. Since you’re at a threshold, you have to make sure you give yourself every chance of making it. Unfortunately, this means distancing yourself from the strong influence of this friend and finding roommates who will maintain an environment conducive to your desire for growth.

I think you have to tell him this straight out. Since you’ve spoken about it and he’s said straight out that he’s not interested in changing, you have no choice but to make different living arrangements. You’ll tell him that it’s not personal, and that you can keep on being friends, but you’ll also need his understanding and support to let you grow in the direction you feel you want and need. He’ll be let down. He’ll be upset. But that’s because he needs you to be able to keep enjoying what he’s not ready to give up. In a way, he’ll want to keep using you.

He may say he’ll accommodate you – that you should move slowly, no drastic changes etc. He’ll say you can stay roommates and you can still go in the direction you’ve decided. Even though that might be sincere, he would be fooling himself and you. Don’t do that. Rather, offer him the choice of making a change with you by moving together into a better environment. Tell him it’s really important to you that the two of you, together, coming from the same strong Jewish background and having been friends for so long, make this change together. If he accepts, fine. If not, you will have demonstrated your friendship and sincere concern for him in the best possible way. If he doesn’t take you up on the offer, the decision was his.

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