Lately it seems that in every other family there is a so-called black sheep who is either whispered about or completely disregarded and omitted from conversations at the dinner table, as well as from family functions. Sometimes it’s an estranged sibling, an aunt or uncle, or even cousins who haven’t spoken to one another in years due to a slight or a remark taken out of context.
I’m not talking about family members drifting apart because of years of physical distance between them and rare opportunities to get together — though this is no excuse nowadays when there are plenty of communication modes available to choose from. The cause of many of these breakups seems to stem from hostilities created by insensitive comments or criticisms directed at (sometimes over-sensitive) kin, and family disputes of all kinds, involving issues of either a personal or business nature.
As a baby boomer, I can’t recall so many splintered families in our communities when we were younger. Was I just not aware of them? Was it always like this? Or has the stress of the modern world gotten to us? One thing seems certain: with instant communication literally at their fingertips, young people are bound to experience difficulty in working things out face-to-face.
Not a good thing…
Never a good thing. And, no doubt, the cut and dried shorthand form of messaging has its drawbacks. For instance, should a warranted apology be forthcoming, the recipient would have a hard time assessing the sincerity of an electronically conveyed mea culpa and may, in addition, have too much time to dwell on whether to accept it or to continue harboring a grudge — whereas in person, one instant of warm feelings can lead to a permanent truce.
Have “black sheep” become more prevalent in families today? Possibly, though machlokes (contention) is not new. With more of us baruch Hashem inhabiting the earth, there is bound to be more of such instances. And of course, since news and gossip travel at a much greater speed today than they once did, we are more in the know — not necessarily in a good way. (This is partly why the laws of lashon hora have been so widely promoted over the last several years.)
And that’s the good thing to have emerged with the times. With predicaments arising to the fore, we are made to deal with them. If we’re lucky (and wise), we learn just by observing others. A fascinating story that has just recently come to light is a perfect example, and its powerful message happens to be relevant to your concern.
A short time ago, a man in Israel dreamed of his late father who came to him to let him know that he (the son) would be summoned shortly to a Heavenly tribunal to testify against someone coming up for judgment. In the dream, the father told his son that his teacher had once, long ago, embarrassed him in the classroom, and since the son had never forgiven him for this humiliation, his testimony would now be required.
The son asked his father whether he would then be allowed to return to earth, but his father didn’t answer him. Shaken over this dream, the son approached Rav Chaim Kanievsky, who annulled the dream. But this didn’t do anything to alleviate the man’s fear and apprehension, and so Rav Kanievsky assembled three witnesses for a beis din ruling. It was decided that the man who had the dream must try to locate his ex-teacher to grant him mechila (forgiveness).
After some tedious searching, this teacher was found to be in the hospital’s intensive care unit, gravely ill. The man went to the hospital, where he was informed that only family members were permitted to visit the very sick patient. This being Israel and the doctor frum, the man explained his dilemma to the doctor — who led him to the patient’s son sitting outside his father’s room.
Upon hearing the story, the son agreed to allow the visitor to try to communicate with his ailing father, now attached to a respirator. The man who had come to forgive his teacher was taken aback by the elder man’s condition (he hardly looked to be among the living) but sat down next to the bed and introduced himself.
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