This is part of an ongoing series of articles that looks at the unique struggles we face as Noahides.
As you have likely discovered by now, there is NOT a vibrant community of like-minded, Torah-observant Noahides living in your neighborhood. In fact, if there are any other Noahides living in your area, you are very fortunate.
Don’t lose all hope, though – this situation will improve. One day, the world will be filled with Noahide communities, and following the Torah will become the norm, rather than an exception. As the prophet says in Isaiah 11:9, “The earth will be full of the knowledge of Hashem, as the waters cover the sea.” May it happen speedily in our day!
But until then, we Noahides are few and far between, and it’s easy to feel alone. One of the things we struggle to figure out is how should we as Noahides relate to and interact with the people in our lives, the people we love.
The Sages tell us that having friends is an indispensable part of the human experience. As the Mishnaic Sage Yehoshua ben Perachia teaches us in Pirkei Avoth 1:6, “Make a rabbi for yourself; Purchase a friend for yourself.” From this we learn that while a relationship with a teacher is vitally important, the role of the student is for the most part passive. Whereas developing friendships requires a much greater investment of time, effort, and intimacy. We “purchase” our friends by being willing to share ourselves, spending time with each other, and being there to help each other through difficult times. And, in the end, our friends influence us just as profoundly as our teachers.
The Dangers of Separation
Upon choosing to follow the path of Torah, many of us experienced the harsh rejection of friends and family who didn’t come along the same path as us. Whether you came from a tight-knit church community who then rejected you for no longer accepting their man-god, or from a secular background where your friends thought you’d joined a cult, their reaction and treatment of you likely came as a heart-wrenching shock. This is much like the experience of Moshe’s father-in-law, Yithro, the former High-Priest of Midian, who was exiled to the wilderness after choosing to follow the Noahide path.
Unfortunately, many Noahides then go further, and choose to voluntarily isolate themselves from the non-Jewish world in which they live. Seeking to follow the example of the Jewish people, they begin emulating Jewish practices, customs, and styles of dress – all of which were specifically designed to separate the Jewish people from the nations, as Hashem said to Israel in Leviticus 20:26, “I have separated you from the peoples, that you should be Mine.”
While the desire to emulate the righteous is generally a good thing, it’s important to remember that, unlike the Jewish people, we Noahides are not meant to be separated from our own peoples. The Jewish people must separate from the nations in order to fulfill their mission of safeguarding the Torah, but we Noahides cannot fulfill our own unique mission if we separate from our own people. Our Noahide mission is to take the light of Torah and implement it within our own societies, not separating from our nations and our peoples, but elevating them with it. And, this can only be accomplished from within!
If you wish to separate from your own people, of course, you can always convert and become part of the Jewish people. Or, you can instead choose, as many of us already have, to follow the example of Yithro, the righteous Noahide, and say, “I will not go with you [Israel], but will depart to my own land, and my own people.” (1)Numbers 10:29 – “Chovav, the son of Reuel the Midianite, Moshe’s father-in-law” is identified by many commentators (such as Ibn Ezra) as none other than Yithro. Rather than converting and becoming an Israelite, as Moshe urged him, he instead chose to return to his own people in order to help bring them to the Torah.
This means that you can and should be part of the society all around you. Unlike a person who converts to Judaism, we Noahides aren’t supposed to separate from our existing friends and family. They are our people! Don’t be afraid to go out and make friends, and be a part of your own people!
Beware Bad Influences
Of course, saying that we are free to be a part of the nations in which we live is all fine and good, but putting that into practice is not always simple. Having clawed our way out of the idolatry of our ancestors, we are all intimately familiar with the evils and dangers that lurk within our own societies.
And, as the Rambam points out:
It is natural for a man’s character and actions to be influenced by his friends and associates and for him to follow the local norms of behavior. Therefore, he should associate with the righteous and be constantly in the company of the wise, so as to learn from their deeds. Conversely, he should keep away from the wicked who walk in darkness, so as not to learn from them.
Mishneh Torah, Hilchoth De’oth 6:1
While most of us wouldn’t call our non-Noahide friends and family “wicked”, we often wouldn’t call them “righteous” either, however there are many we may consider “wise”. So, it’s vitally important that we recognize the influence that many of them have on our behavior and character traits – and even more so on the behavior of our children. And of course, if you have existing friends and family who accepted your decision to follow this path, even though they may not understand it – you should treasure them!
Just remember that we human beings are social creatures, and no matter how strong-willed we may think we are, we naturally emulate the behavior and actions of those we spend time with.
Thus, we must strive to connect with other righteous people who live near us – whether Jews or Noahides – so that we can strengthen each other and learn from each other’s good behavior. And, when making friends with the non-righteous, make sure to look for people who have qualities you admire and would like to incorporate in your own character development so you can learn from their good qualities, and avoid people whose jobs or behaviors regularly involve violence, harsh words, and endangering others lest you become comfortable sitting in the “seat of the scorners”.
As it says in Proverbs 12:26, “A righteous man is cautious in friendship, but the way of the wicked leads them astray.”
Be a Good Influence
At the same time, we must be careful not to be so afraid of being influenced by the wicked that we completely and totally separate from those around us. After all, in order to implement Torah in our dealings with our fellow non-Jews, we must actually go out and interact with our fellow non-Jews!
As you learn more Torah, you’ll find that it transforms every aspect of how you relate to your fellow human beings. From simple interactions with your friends, neighbors, families, and loved ones, to how you handle the most complex business transactions. All of these interactions have enormous ripple-effects in the world around us.
A particularly great way to make new friends is by getting involved in local groups and organizations who are doing good things in your community. Volunteering is one of the most rewarding things you can do, not only because of the good things you will do for others, but also for the friendships you will forge with other like-minded people who are actively working to make your community a better place – whether it be by fighting homelessness, poverty, and hunger, helping abused men, women and children, or any other good cause.
If your local community doesn’t have many such opportunities, consider moving to an area where there are more opportunities (2)I hear Minneapolis is a nice place to live and even has some swell Noahides!. Or better yet, create those opportunities for yourself and others in your community!
It’s a Small World
In the early 1900’s, a French Noahide named Aime Palliere wrote an autobiography entitled “The Unknown Sanctuary”. It’s a fascinating look at his journey from training to be a Catholic priest to becoming a Noahide. But, one thing that becomes very clear in his story is the loneliness and isolation of being a Noahide at that time.
Compared to his situation, it’s almost like we’re living in the Messianic era! Today, there are Noahides living all over the globe, in every corner of the world – from the Philippines, to India, to the Netherlands, to rural Texas, and everywhere in between.
Sure we are far and few between, but with modern communications technology, speaking with a fellow Noahide is as simple as making a Skype call. We can connect with others through forums on Facebook, through websites like this one, through online Torah classes and learning opportunities, or through any of literally hundreds of other similar methods online. Unlike Aime Palliere’s era, in this day and age, there’s literally no reason for us not to be making friendships with other Noahides.
And, what’s even better is that our world is becoming smaller and smaller every day. In a matter of hours, we can physically travel to almost anywhere on the planet! And, while it’s great to make these virtual connections, there’s nothing quite like meeting another Noahide face-to-face.
This is someone who understands where you’ve come from. They understand the questions and confused looks you get from friends and family. They’ve also struggled with idea of whether or not to convert. Even the Noahides you disagree with online usually turn out to be some of the coolest people you’ll meet.
Whenever we travel, we always make a point to reach out to local Noahides and get together over coffee, lunch, or dinner. The stories we’ve shared, the fellowship and support we’ve received, and the friendships we’ve made have been the real highlight of all our travels. We highly recommend making these connections when you travel, as well as connecting with other Noahides traveling through your neck of the woods (3)Of course, be sensible about all this, and use caution – there are plenty of weirdos out there on the internet!.
Finally, make sure to keep an eye out for the various Noahide Conferences which are a great place to meet other Noahides. Through a Noahide Nations conference in Texas, we ended up meeting a whole group of Noahides who lived a mere 3 hours away from us in Minnesota! Having these friends in our lives all these years has been a great blessing to my husband and I, and we all make a point of getting together at least a couple times a year.
We live in an amazing age. And, we’ve been blessed by Hashem with amazing technology. Use it to reach out to other Noahides all around the world and forge friendships – your soul will thank you for it!
As it says in Psalms 133, “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together as one.”
The Sages teach us that friendship is a key part of the human experience. The people we choose as our friends are an important part of our walk with Hashem.
However, for us Noahides it’s a tricky balancing act. On one hand, we must strive to forge friendships with the few other righteous individuals we know. On the other hand, we must remain involved in our own society, nurturing relationships with our “non-Noahide” spouses, children, parents, siblings, friends and colleagues. All while making sure we are not unduly influenced by others’ vice and objectionable traits.
Finding the proper balance between remaining involved and guarding against negative influences will be different for each of us, depending on many factors. Maintaining that balance will be more difficult for some of us than others depending on circumstances. Your Noahide friends can help you figure some things out or simply be a sounding board.
As you continue in your walk with Hashem, remember to invest time and effort in building friendships with other Noahides, both online and in real life. It’s an investment that will pay off in more ways than you can imagine. And, always remember that we are all part of a greater worldwide community of Noahides that will continue to grow and grow as time goes on.
Remember that you are not alone in all this!
Footnotes [ + ]
|1.||↑||Numbers 10:29 – “Chovav, the son of Reuel the Midianite, Moshe’s father-in-law” is identified by many commentators (such as Ibn Ezra) as none other than Yithro. Rather than converting and becoming an Israelite, as Moshe urged him, he instead chose to return to his own people in order to help bring them to the Torah.|
|2.||↑||I hear Minneapolis is a nice place to live and even has some swell Noahides!|
|3.||↑||Of course, be sensible about all this, and use caution – there are plenty of weirdos out there on the internet!|