French family 58.
(photo credit: Alain Azria)
There is no fight quite so bitter and harmful as a family fight. The very
closeness of the relationship intensifies the feelings of personal hurt and deep
insult. Closeness always emphasizes the differences that exist and clouds over
the basic agreements and shared values and worldview.
The history of the
past century has shown that the divisions in the Jewish religious world are
seemingly unbridgeable, even though the differing sides agree on the basic
principles of faith and moral behavior. They disagree on clothing,
customs, political matters and how to share the pie of jobs, welfare and
governmental and private largesse.
The Bolshevik communist government of
the Soviet Union hated and persecuted the Menshevik communists, socialists,
Trotskyites and other assorted Marxists to a greater degree than even their
capitalist foes. It was a family fight, and family fights become violent,
illogical and very long lasting.
Great institutions of Jewish learning
have been broken up by internal disagreements as to the minute methodologies of
study, the rights of succession and differences of personality. Rarely do these
disputes involve true ideological differences; they almost always descend into
personal feuds that are eventually intractable.
From my long experience
in the rabbinate, I can unequivocally state that the bitterest disputes I was
witness to and attempted unsuccessfully to solve were between members of the
same family, usually but not always over inheritance rights and other family
matters that to the outside observer seemed relatively petty and unimportant.
This is certainly an example of the sometimes perverse side of human
Our rabbis have often taught us that the bitter internal disputes
that have plagued Jewish history and are all too present in our current society
can all be traced to the genetic imprint created within us by the story of
Joseph and his brothers. Joseph is insensitive to the feelings of his brothers,
suspects them of deeds that they have never committed and slanders them to their
They, in turn, see in this young teenage brother an existential
threat to their very existence and to the ability of the house of Jacob to
survive and prosper. Out of these misunderstandings personal enmities develop.
The 10 brothers cannot speak peacefully or civilly to Joseph, so deep is their
antagonism toward him.
They hardened their hearts and stopped up their
ears when he wept and pleaded with them when he was in the pit of snakes and
scorpions and then finally sold as a slave into Egypt. This also allows them to
fool their elderly father and to witness his grief without revealing to him
their culpability in the disappearance of Joseph.
Wrongdoing always leads
to further wrongdoings, and a lie must inevitably lead to a cover-up of further
lies. And all this because of a family fight over misinterpretations and
erroneous assumptions of the motives and behavior of others.
it will take years and very changed external circumstances to reconcile Joseph
and his brothers and make the house of Jacob whole again. Common existential
dangers, the enemy from outside, usually have a sobering effect upon simmering
Only diehard ideologues continue to whistle past the
graveyard, oblivious to the real dangers that confront us.
that once I witnessed a traffic policeman in Jerusalem writing out a summons to
someone who had allegedly illegally parked near a synagogue. Their argument grew
heated, and I was afraid that they would come to blows. Suddenly someone emerged
from the synagogue and shouted to them, “We need two more Jews to complete our
minyan!” The policeman and the car owner dutifully trudged into the
After the service concluded, they immediately resumed their
heated discussion as to whether the person’s car was wrongfully parked. The
external emergency had ended, and now they could return to their own disputation
To a certain extent, that vignette is a microcosm of Jewish
social and political life today. It seems that we need a discernible external
and immediate threat to allow us to forgo our internal squabbles, at least
temporarily. Let us hope that we will find a wiser and better way to deal with
our family fights.