The last perek of Pirkei Avot begins (6:1): "R' Meir said, all that study Torah for its sake (lishmah), merits many things…" The Beraita then continues listing the qualities and attributes of such a person. The list begins with, "he is called a friend, beloved". We shall try to understand the beginning of this list.
The Tifferet Yisrael explains that these are two separate qualities both relating to his relationship with other people. Firstly, he is a called a friend. This individual is worth befriending given the sound council he could provide. Secondly, he is surely beloved given the sterling character traits adopted by one that learns lishmah.
Others explain that these qualities relate to his relationship with Hashem. In this context the term "friend" is to be understood in the sense of acting as a partner. For example, the Ruach Chaim explains that since the study of Torah ensures the continued existence of the world, those that study the Torah effectively partner with Hashem in the creation. Similarly, the Midrash Shmuel comments that these qualities follow from the previous comment that "the entire world is worthwhile for him". In other words, since the entire world's existence is worthwhile just for this individual, then certainly he can be considered as partnering in the creation.
The Ruach Chaim however provides another explanation that these attributes are to be understood with respect to the Torah itself. He explains by citing one of the seven berachot that are recited at a wedding: "sameach tisamach, re'im ha'ahuvim" – "may you gladden the friends who are beloved to each other". Note that the language in that blessing, "re'im ha'ahuvim" is used in our Mishnah "re'ah ahuv". In other words, these are not two attributes, but rather a single description – a beloved friend. The relationship of re'im ha'ahuvim", where they are loved by one another, is more than just a regular friendship.
The Ruach Chaim continues that the relationship between a husband and wife is different to a normal friendship. The pasuk in Mishlei (25:17) warns "Let your feet be scarce from you friend's home, lest he be satiated with you and come hate you." Contrast this with a marriage where they are not just friends (re'im), but also beloved (ahuvim), such that the relationship is only strengthened the more time they spend with one another.
The Ruach Chaim explains that there is another context where we find this phenomenon – one's relationship with the Torah. "The more one immerses himself in Torah study, the more will Torah cling to him." However, this affection is only if one studies without any ulterior motive; he studies Torah for its own sake.
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