The Quicksand of Family Feuding

Sibling Rivalry

By Rabbi Moshe Meir Weiss

With the three weeks behind us and as we head into the month of Elul, I would like to pose to my dear readers a question.  If you had no knowledge of any commentary by the Sages and I asked you why you think Hashem ‘closed up’ His House, the Temple, and moved out of the neighborhood (for that is essentially what the destruction of the BeisHaMikdash amounted to), what would you say was the reason that Hashem chose to leave us?  I believe most people would conjecture that it was something between us and Hashem, bein adom laMakom.  Perhaps, Hashem found our prayers lacking or we weren’t thinking about Him enough.  Perhaps it was because we weren’t studying enough Torah or we weren’t wearing our tefillin with the proper concentration and with a clean body.  Maybe Hashem was disgusted that we didn’t learn the intricate laws of Shabbos or kashrus properly.These would all be logical assumptions for why Hashem packed up His bags, closed down His House, and moved back to Heaven.

But, they would all be wrong for we know that the Sages teach us categorically that the Second Temple was destroyed because of the sin of sinas chinam, senseless hatred.  It seems that Hashem could have lived in harmony with us and could have looked away from our indiscretions towards Him.  But, He simply could not bear to ‘stick around’ and watch when His children weren’t getting along one with another, for we are Hashem’s children, bonim atem l’Hashem Elokeichem, you are children to Hashem your G-d.”  Thus, we are all brothers and sisters, as it says, “Acheinu kol Beis Yisroel – Brothers, all of the House of Israel.”  This is because we have Hashem, a common Father in Heaven.  When the children are fighting, the parent (in this case “Parent”) can’t bear to look and therefore Hashem declared, “I’m out of here.”

What a powerful lesson for us to consider as we head into the month of Elul.  As we make many preparations to get ready for the finish line, namely Yom Kippur, we know that the holy Day of Atonement can only atone for sins between us and Hashem, but for sins between us and our fellow, there is no Divine forgiveness until we make amends to the person that we have wronged.

How sad that there exists infighting in so many families.  Prestigious families ripped apart by ferocious feuds.  The primary culprits of this ugly phenomenon are money and kavod, honor – ironically, the two things that Rav Avigdor Miller,Zt”l, Zy”a, used to say that one should give to one’s son in-law.  He would wisely say: Spare the criticism and even the advice – unless you are asked.  If you want to keep your daughter, give your son in-law honor and money.  But, in the arena of family dynamics, many fine families have been torn asunder quarreling over the yerushah, the inheritance.  Sometimes, it’s not even over the money but over the decision maker: who should be in control.  We must learn from Hashem’s example that when a parent sees his or her children not getting along, it is intolerable.

The Torah way is stated clearly, “Hinei ma tov u’ma naim, sheves achim gam yochad – How good and how sweet it is when siblings live in harmony and tranquility.”If you have the means, google ‘The Ethical Will’ of Rabbi Samson Rafael Hirsch.  There, he writes that he asked his children only one request: that when inevitably one of them wrongs the other, they should forgive and forget. For when the children are united, it will give him and ‘mommy’ great pleasure when they are in the Afterlife.

For those who are already trapped in the maelstrom of a family feud, know that it is a veritable quicksand.  The need to be right is so powerful that it is almost overwhelming.  Let me extend a life perserver to such individuals.  That is, remember that when one has negias, self-interest, even the smartest person cannot see clearly and becomes morally corrupted.  The only way out of the morass is to bring in a reliable, uncorruptable, Torahdig third party to help save everyone from drowning, sometimes eternally, in the mud and the muck.  Forewarned is forearmed.  May Hashem protectus and in the merit of making every effort to get along with our families, may Hashem bless us with long life, good health, and everything wonderful.

L’refuah sheleimah for Miriam Liba bas Devorah.

Sheldon Zeitlin takes dictation of, and edits, Rabbi Weiss’s articles.

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