…R Yehoshua ben Perachya said, make for yourself a Rav, acquire a friend and judge every person favourably.
The Bartenura explains that the Mishnah begins by stressing the importance of having a Rav. First, citing the Rambam, he explains that even if the Rav is not worthy to be considered one's teacher (e.g. they are on the same level) it is important to have a Rav and not draw conclusions on one's own. The Bartenura however continues with a different explanation, that the Mishnah is stressing the importance of having one Rav to learn from to ensure a consistent approach to one's learning, which is especially important when considering an oral tradition.1
The Bartenura continues by explaining the directive to "acquire a friend", that even if friendship will come at a great expense, it must nonetheless be pursued. This is not the case when it come to a Rav, since a Rav should not charge for teaching (Nedarim 37a). The Tifferet Yisrael explains that one's learning is far more successful, despite having already found a Rav, when learning with a chavrutah (study partner).
The R' Yonah however expands the necessity for friendship beyond the world of learning. He adds that friendship is also need in the world of mitzvot and in particular, for teshuva. One needs a good friend that will let them know when they have done something wrong or what needs to be repaired. Finally, one needs a friend for advice or for help when needed. In a similar vein, in Avot DeRebbi Natan (6:3) we find, "Acquire a study partner who will eat with you, drink with you, learn… with you… and reveal the secrets of the Torah and refined social behaviour." The Ruach Chaim writes that this advice applies to everyone and is not a function of intelligence. He continues:
Even the wisest person can be manipulated by his tailor-made evil inclination. A friend, whose personal evil inclination is of a different sort, can more readily spot flaws in logic.
Irving Bunim (Ethics from Sinai, p 79) however presents a novel approach to this Mishnah. He explains that when R' Yehoshua ben Peracha opens with "aseh lecha rav", it can be understood as meaning "make yourself a teacher". He writes:
Why always be a follower? Why resign yourself to a position of inferior status? Go to school. Study more. Rise in your profession, your business, your community. If you reside in a community where there are few Shabbat observers, few Jews who know Torah, take the lead yourself…
This novel interpretation is intimately connected to the next instruction of the Mishnah. Irving Bunim continues:
…[I]f you do that, if you show yourself to be an individual concerned with your fellowmen, interested in their welfare and prepared to spend time and energy in leading them, then you will 'acquire friends'. He who is ready to invest in the welfare of others will find his interest reciprocated.
1 The Bartenura explains that this is despite the fact that when it comes to logical reasoning during learning, the Gemara (Avodah Zara 19a) stresses the importance of learning from many people.
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