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Iron Sharpens Iron

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As iron sharpens iron,
     so one person sharpens another. — Proverbs 27:17

A dull knife isn’t a very powerful tool. In fact, it can be dangerous because a dull knife is harder to maneuver and control. The way to sharpen a dull knife is to rub it against a metal rod. In that way, it becomes precise and effective.

Proverbs teaches us that “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” Our greatest tool for becoming our best is each other.

The Talmud shares a story about two Jewish sages who were study partners, Reish Lakish and Rabbi Yochanan. When Rabbi Yochanan raised a point, Reish Lakish would ask 24 questions that challenged the idea. In return, Rabbi Yochanan would reply with 24 answers. In the end, both men explored 49 ideas and sharpened one another’s mind at the same time.

The story goes that when Reish Lakish passed away, Rabbi Yochanan found a new study partner. However, when Rabbi Yochanan raised an idea, this partner provided 24 proofs as to how Rabbi Yochanan was correct. Rabbi Yochanan’s response was to cry bitterly for his former study partner who taught him more by challenging him than the current partner who simply agreed. Rabbi Yochanan no longer had a way to sharpen his mind and soul.

The sages point out that when two rocks are rubbed together, they produce fire which can burn and destroy. However, when iron is rubbed against iron, both are made better.

So, too, if we have a spirit of strife when we interact with others we can cause animosity and destruction. But when our hearts are set on learning and loving, we will become better for having learned from someone else.

It’s extremely valuable to choose who we spend our time with. Studies have proven that we are deeply affected by the five people with whom we spend the most time. We need to choose to be around people who sharpen us. We should be with people of kindness, who can improve the frequency and intensity of our own acts of kindness. We could all benefit from a Bible study partner whom we can learn with and, more importantly, learn from. We should find mentors and role models to be around who can sharpen our character.

At the same time, we must remember that just as others can sharpen us, we can help improve others. If someone around you is feeling down, we can encourage them by radiating our own joy. We can share ideas and teachings from God’s Word with our friends. We can challenge our friends to become better through other spiritual pursuit.

Iron sharpens iron. God created us to strengthen one another. Let’s come together in a spirit of fellowship and the willingness to learn from each other.

With prayers for shalom, peace,

Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President

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March 1, 2016
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