On a number of occasions in today’s daf (Eruvin 32a-b) reference is made to a חבר (chaver) which, though generally translated as ‘friend’, actually refers to someone who is very meticulous in their mitzvah observance and who is מחובר (deeply ‘connected’) to the observance of halacha.
In particular, the Gemara records a disagreement between Rebbi and Rabbi Shimon Ben Gamliel about the appropriate behaviour of a chaver with respect to food that may or may not have been tithed in the correct halachic manner by another (second) chaver, which the (first) chaver is now planning to give to other people.
According to Rebbi, a presumption is made that the (second) chaver would have been prepared to commit a minor infraction of tithing in a manner that is not in accordance with halacha in order to prevent others from committing a greater transgression of eating non-tithed food. While according to Rabbi Shimon Ben Gamliel, a presumption is made that the (second) chaver would not have been prepared to commit the minor infraction of tithing in a manner that is not in accordance with halacha, notwithstanding the fact that this would lead others to commit a greater transgression of eating non-tithed food.
Explained differently, Rebbi presumes that someone who is very meticulous in their mitzvah observance would be prepared to compromise their own standards to avoid compromising others, while Rabbi Shimon Ben Gamliel presumes that someone who is very meticulous in their mitzvah observance would not be prepared to compromise their own standards even if this would mean that others would be compromised.
Over the years I’ve met many people whose hierarchy of values are expressive of Rebbi’s approach and whose חיבור (connection) to halacha takes into consideration their חיבור with others, while I have also met those whose hierarchy of values are expressive of Rabbi Shimon Ben Gamliel’s approach, and whose חיבור to halacha is not affected by how this will affect their חיבור with others. Yet while there is much to admire in the unflinching approach described by Rabbi Shimon Ben Gamliel, I align with the position of Rebbi and believe that a central duty of someone who is meticulous in their mitzvah observance is to be concerned with, and be prepared to make compromises for, the mitzvah observance of others.
However, as numerous commentaries point out, there seems to be a flaw in the logic of Rebbi, because the Gemara elsewhere (Shabbat 4a) rules that we don’t tell people חטא כדי שיזכה חבירך – ‘Sin in order that your fellow should benefit’. Given this, how does Rebbi justify his approach?
According to the Ritva, there is no contradiction because each are speaking of different scenarios. As he explains, the objection to חטא כדי שיזכה חבירך only applies when someone is told to act in that manner by a Beit Din (as evident from the words ‘we don’t tell people etc.’), while we learn from our Gemara that an individual is permitted to compromise their own standards in order to avoid significantly compromising others.
Clearly this insight has many different and many wide ranging applications, but what we learn from here – at least according to Rebbi – is that to be a חבר is not just to be מחובר (deeply ‘connected’) to the observance of halacha, but also deeply considerate of the spiritual חיבור that exists between yourself and others.