Photo Credit: Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis
Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis

Editor’s Note: Rebbetzin Jungreis, a”h, is no longer with us in a physical sense, but her message is eternal and The Jewish Press will continue to present the columns that for more than half a century have inspired countless readers around the world.

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Peace is the most precious gift. Our sages teach that in its absence all our attainments are of no avail. Even the most magnificent palace, even enormous wealth, cannot compensate for turmoil, animosity, and abuse.

Sadly, our generation is plagued by conflict and contention. Contention between husband and wife, between generations, in families and communities. All this despite a glut of self-help programs, therapy, and literature. Can it be that there is something in our value system that contributes to splintered relationships and fragmented families?

There is a saying in Yiddish: “The way the non-Jewish world goes, so goes the Jewish world.” Let us examine some of the most popular adages of our culture and determine whether they are in consonance with our Torah way of life.

It’s my life. I owe it to myself. It’s time for me to be selfish. People bent on breaking up their families often try to justify their actions with such rationalizations, but is this the Torah outlook? Does the Torah endorse selfishness?

Very often when people tell me “It’s my life,” I challenge them with “Really? What part of your life did you create? Your eyes? Your ears? Which organ? Which limb? Moreover, did you will yourself to be born? Did you choose to be a child of the family that gave you life, or was it all the Hand of G-d?”

Our lives are gifts from Hashem. Consequently, we have a responsibility to safeguard and justify the gift of life that He gave us. In keeping with this idea, just before the conclusion of our prayers we say, “Please, G-d, grant that I should not have labored in vain, and that I should not have been born for naught.”

No, our lives are not our own to do with as we wish. Our souls and our bodies were given to us by our Creator to fulfill the special purpose for which He created us. The next time someone tells you “It’s my life,” don’t just sit by silently but remind him that one day he will have to give an accounting, not just of every day G-d granted him but of every minute, even every second, he spent on this earth.

So when, G-d forbid, someone abuses his or her family, it’s not one’s personal business. Rather, it is the business of the entire family and even the entire nation – for with every splintered family, the fabric of the nation is weakened.

It wasn’t my fault…. I’m just a victim. There is nothing novel about this rationale. It is as old as man himself. Adam, the first man, invoked the ire of G-d when he blamed his transgression with the fruit of the three on Eve: “The woman that you gave me…she made me do it.” Thus, he was the first to shirk responsibility and scapegoat. The woman followed suit and pointed her finger at the serpent. Both of those responses were unacceptable to Hashem.

The Torah demands that instead of blaming others for our shortcomings, we confront ourselves in all honesty, accept responsibility for our deeds, and make amends. Shifting blame gives us license to continue the same hostile behavior. On the other hand, accepting responsibility for our deeds is the path to teshuvah, which leads to new life, renewed commitment, and the fulfillment of our mission.

Why? Why me? Life is unfairwhat’s the use of it all?” Such questioning can only lead to cynicism, bitterness, anger, self-pity, and depression. Instead of asking “Why?” we should pose the question in Lashon HaKodesh. The Hebrew word for why is madua, which can be heard as mah dei’ah – What can I learn from this? What wisdom can I glean from this?”

Thus the Torah teaches us to look upon our challenges and difficulties as opportunities for growth rather than as cause for cynicism and self-pity.

I recall a young couple coming to see me. The woman was determined to get a divorce, while he was bent on saving the marriage. I asked to speak to her privately.

“Give me specifics,” I said.

Upon closer scrutiny, everything she brought up turned out to be a non-issue – certainly no reason for so drastic a step as divorce. I told her that when a couple breaks up, the Altar in the Beis HaMikdash of the Heavens weeps.

She offered further arguments, none of which justified a divorce. Then she finally blurted out that her love had dried up and she no longer had feelings for him. “I’m still young,” she said, “and there is no reason for me to stay in a loveless marriage.”

I told her that in Lashon HaKodesh, the word for love – ahavah – comes from the root hav, to give. “Has it ever occurred to you,” I asked, “that the reason your love dried up is that you stopped giving? Take your cue from nature. When a nursing mother stops nursing, her milk dries up. And this is valid in every area. Start giving again, and your love will return.”

We have created a me generation, short on sacrifice and long on demand. We know how to take, but we have never learned how to give. We are wrapped up in our own needs and fail to see the needs of others. We know how to cry for ourselves but we are not good at crying for others.

People who are in conflict never want to consider how destructive their actions are. But no man is an island unto himself. If he hurts others, his family and community will suffer – but it is he who will suffer the most.

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