In last week’s column, I published a very sad letter from a young woman who wrote that two of her sisters were not on speaking terms and had splintered the family with their animosity.
Her elderly, widowed mother was totally devastated by their behavior and wept constantly. Although no one in the family understood the cause of their conflict, and although they all tried to make shalom between them, it was all to no avail. As result, every family gathering has turned into a nightmare, with the sisters refusing to be seated at the same table or even attend if the other was invited.
The widowed mother pleaded and begged them to make peace, but her words fell upon deaf ears. The tragedy has had other ramifications as well. Cousins, who only yesterday were very close, were no longer on speaking terms and the family became the butt of gossip, as news of the strife became known in the community.
The sister who wrote to me is the youngest in the family and the only one living at home. Since all the other siblings are married, she is the most affected by this family tragedy. It is she who sees and hears her mother’s cries day and night.
It is she who sees her mother’s depressed state, and it is she who is suffering the most personally since she is in the shidduch parshah, and people are hesitant to become involved with a family in which such animosity prevails. She wrote to me in desperation hoping that if the story was printed, the sisters might read it, recognize themselves and come to their senses. The following is my reply:
My Dear Friend:
I will address this column to your sisters, but before I do so, allow me to say a few words to you.
You have a big zechus, because you are the one who is “hands-on” in giving loving care to your dear mother. Shidduchim are from Hashem, and in the merit of your great mitzvah, Hashem will surely send you your basherte – your soul mate.
Daven, and give special attention to Minchah – the afternoon service. Minchah is especially propitious for a shidduch, for it was after Yitzchak Avinu, our patriarch Isaac, davened Minchah, that he met Rivkah, his wife.
Additionally, do your hishtadlus – due diligence. Consult with shadchanim and please feel free to come and see me as well. I just might know of someone for you. In any event, don’t lose heart. You have to be strong, not only for yourself, but also for your mother who relies upon you. I will address the remainder of this letter to your sisters:
On Thursday evening, following my shiur at our Hineni Center, I see people in my office. Over the years, I have encountered all sorts of problems. At this point, I don’t think that there is anything that would shock me. Sadly, I have heard the most bizarre, the most outlandish stories – stories that one could not make up, even if one tried. But there is one type of situation to which I cannot resign myself, and that is family in-fighting.
There are children not talking to parents, even to the point of not inviting them to a simcha (be it a bris, a bar mitzvah, or a wedding), siblings building walls of hatred and injecting their own children with their venom. One sees family members suing one another (in some cases actually being responsible for an uncle, brother or a husband being sent to jail); siblings not talking to each other and with their hared, destroying an entire family. These types of people do not need a Hitler, y”s, to destroy them – they themselves orchestrate their own tragedy.
I will never forget the words of my saintly father, HaRav HaGaon Avraham HaLevi Jungreis, zt”l. If he heard of such family infighting, he would literally break down, weep, and say in Yiddish, “Noch a zah Churban – After such a catastrophe (the Holocaust) we have to embrace every Jew…. How much more so, family? And how grateful we must be if we still have a family! Yiddishe kinderlach,” he would plead, “have rachmanus – compassion, for one another.”
Take a few minutes and absorb those words of my father. Now ask yourself: Against whom am I fighting? My sister? My sister!
And then think – think again and realize that it’s not only your sister whom you are harming, but your entire family – even your people! Know that through your behavior you are unleashing a Tsunami of hatred that is killing your poor mother, injuring your siblings, and scarring your children and grandchildren. Surely, you would not wish to have such a stain on your neshamah.
On Pesach night, at the Seder, we recite “Dayenu” and enumerate all the kindnesses that Hashem bestowed upon us…. kindnesses for which we are eternally indebted. The Dayenu song details these kindnesses. The question has to be asked, however, why do we need this detailed Dayenu song? Why could we not have proclaimed one blanket thank you that would encompass all the acts of chesed of Hashem?
General, generic words of thanks don’t quite make it. They fail to identify the kindnesses or make us aware of our total indebtedness. For example, when a Bar Mitzvah boy says, “I want to thank my father and my mother for everything that they did for me,” that young man doesn’t even begin to fathom the measure of his indebtedness. His words are hollow – mere tokenism.
Were he however, to list and specify the many acts of loving-kindness that his parents bestowed upon him from the moment of his birth to this very day, he would have a totally different perspective and appreciation of the sacrifices and goodness of his mother and father.
The reason why I make mention of all this is because the converse is also true. You have made a decision to reject one another, but were you to contemplate the many far-reaching ramifications of your decision, you would quickly realize how devastating your decision was – how each of your acts is a “dayenu of destruction and hatred.” So let’s try to write that “Dayenu” and you judge for yourselves whether any of them apply to you.
· Two Jews building walls of hatred – Dayenu
· Two sisters at war with one another – Dayenu
· Children inflicting suffering upon their mother – Dayenu
· Breaking a widow’s heart – Dayenu
· Destroying the sholom bayis of a family – Dayenu
· Causing lashon ha’ra to be spoken – Dayenu
· Injecting the venom of hatred in future generations – Dayenu
· Bringing suffering into an entire family – Dayenu
· Creating a public chillul Hashem – Dayenu
· Impeding the shidduch of a sibling – Dayenu
· Causing anguish to neshamos above who see and hear all – Dayenu
· Impeding the coming of Moshiach – Dayenu
Read this dayenu list – then read it again and ask yourself two simple questions. Is this me? Am I guilty of these sins? Don’t answer me, but answer yourselves and then make a promise to stop the insanity and rebuild your family.
Bear in mind that the destruction that you have choreographed is not only limited to your family, but spills over to all of our people. Every day we daven and implore Hashem to send Moshiach. We are in desperate need of his coming, so why doesn’t he come?
It is almost 2,000 years that we are languishing in this long, dark, bitter exile. Why doesn’t he come? The answer is painfully simple. The hatred that brought about our exile is still clinging to us – we have yet to cast it off.
We are soon coming to the great Yom Tov of Chanukah. The last day of the festival – Zos Chanukah, is an extension of Yom Kippur, when Hashem grants us another opportunity to make amends, to do teshuvah, to right wrongs.
Seize the moment…. call one another and say those magically healing words – I forgive. Bring a smile to your mother’s face and joy to her broken heart. Unify your family – and above all, free yourselves from the chains of hatred that are imprisoning you. Put out the fire that you ignited before it consumes everyone and everything, and G-d forbid, turns your home into a heap of ashes.
The tragic consequences of continuing on your present course are catastrophic, but the blessings that you will incur by forgiving are immeasurable. Not only will you be enriched by a harmonious family life, which is the hallmark of every Yiddishe mishpachah, but you will also inherit the most awesome gift – the promise of Hashem that “He who forgives and foregoes his honor will, in turn, be forgiven for all his sins.” Could there be anything more meaningful than that?
Every night, before we go to sleep, part of our bedtime Shema is a brief but very powerful prayer: “Ribbono Shel Olam – Almighty G-d – I hereby forgive anyone who angered or antagonized me or who sinned against me…whether against my body, my property, my honor, or anything of mine…whether he did so accidentally, willfully, carelessly, or purposely…. whether through speech, deed, or thought…I forgive!
Act now before it is too late and say, I forgive!
With love of Am Yisrael
Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis