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Home » Family Life, Vayishlach

Vayishlach: Family Feud

Submitted by on November 26, 2017 – 1:02 amNo Comment | 2,301 views

The worst kind of feud is a family feud. When we feel betrayed by those we love, the pain runs deep, and it is difficult to forgive. Some people won’t attend their grand nephew’s wedding because of a family feud from decades back. Deep pain tends to be lasting and difficult to erase.

But not every family feud is as dangerous as the feud between Esau and Jacob. We all know the story. Isaac offered to bless Esau. Jacob disguised himself as Esau and made off with the blessings. When Esau heard about it, he was enraged and pledged to kill his brother. Jacob fled, and returned twenty-two years later, daring to hope that the family feud had faded. But family feuds don’t fade easily and neither did this one.

Jacob was informed that Esau was marching against him with four hundred mercenaries and Jacob prepared for war. But Jacob never gave up hope. He knew his brother felt betrayed. He knew his brother was nursing a terrible grudge. But he still hoped to reignite a spark of brotherhood in Esau. He prayed to G-d and said, “Save me from the hand of my brother, the hand of Esau.” Jacob was no fool. He knew Esau was a hard and dangerous man. But when he thought of Esau, he thought of him first and foremost as his brother. He called him his brother first, and Esau, dangerous Esau, second.

After he prayed, Jacob set out to fan the flame of brotherhood between them. He sent a tribute to Esau and then approached him, defenceless family in tow, showing Esau deference and love. Esau stood his ground unmoved, awaiting Jacob’s next move. At this point, Jacob “prostrated himself to the ground seven times, until he reached his brother.”[1]

Find Your Brother
Rabbi Michel of Zlothcev, one of the early Chassidic masters said the following: Esau’s spark of brotherhood was always present, but deeply concealed under layers of aggression and hatred. By prostrating and submitting himself lovingly, Jacob peeled away the layers and reached Esau’s essence. He touched the point, where they were simply brothers. The long-nurtured anger faded. The grudge disappeared. The spark of brotherhood flamed, and Esau had a change of heart.[2]

In that moment, Esau was overcome by love and could wait no longer. “Esau ran toward him and embraced him, and he fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept.”

Although our sages attribute insincere motives to Esau’s kiss, he was, at least at the literal level, overcome by love and brotherhood. There is much for us to learn from this lesson. When a family feud breaks out, siblings and relatives nurse long term grudges. They say things they don’t mean, and are too proud to take them back.

Years pass by, and the wounds deepen, but it won’t end until one of the two stands up and initiates the process of reconciliation. He/she will become the target of many blows. Curse and invective will rain down on his/her head, but if he/she submits to the shower of negativity with love, the spark of siblinghood will be fanned.

As your sibling rages and screams, remind yourself that this anger is fueled by pain. He/she was deeply hurt as were you, and the screaming is cathartic. Let him/her pour it all out even at the expense of your pride because with each scream, you are reaching your sibling. That spark of siblinghood that lay dormant since the family feud, the spark of brotherhood that had seemed so distant, will draw nearer to the surface until you will be able to reach out and touch it. You will have found your brother.

Your Son

The saddest family feud is not between siblings, but between parents and children. When your son grows up and challenges your authority, it can be trying and hard to swallow. He is experimenting with independence and trying out his assertiveness for size. He is learning by trial and error and your response is critical. You can either submit to the temporary disrespect and allow him to find his way, or assert your authority and damage your son.

There comes a point when your child starts acting like your equal. He would rather you treat him like a sibling than a child. He disagrees with your opinions, breaks your rules and mocks your wisdom. It feels like your son has faded into a distance and a stranger has taken his place. Your role as a parent, is to bring your son back to the surface by treating him like the adult that he is soon to be.

When Jacob left his father in law’s home, he began to refer to his children as brothers. This does not mean that he demeaned himself or that they stopped respecting him. It means that he showed his respect for them.

This calls for patience on the parent’s part. The teenage child tries the parent, tests the boundaries and makes himself disagreeable. But the parents must recall that this is not anger. This is pain. The teenager is confused, he or she is looking for direction and traction. They are trying to figure out who they are and what adulthood feels like.

This is a time of instability and confusion. The anchors and foundations that served them well in childhood, no longer serve them and they feel alone. They lash out at their parents because those are the people they trust most. And though they seem angry on the surface, they are really in distress.

The Torah tells us that Jacob instructed his brother to collect stones to make a monument. The Midrash explains that Jacob was in fact talking to his sons. Why did he call them brothers? The great biblical commentator Rashi explains that it was because they were his partners in distress and in war.[3]

I think there is a powerful lesson to be learned here. “In distress and in war.” When our children seem to have declared war on us, they are really in distress. It can be the distress of confusion that results simply from growing up, or it can be the distress that results from having been molested or abused.

All we can do at this time, is swallow the tirades, absorb the invective, and treat them like brothers. We need to communicate our love, but not the love of parent to little child, it must be the love of parent to a fellow adult. The reality is this. If we find the strength to tolerate their disrespect, they will soon grow out of this stage and respect us even more. If we lose our patience and insist on their respect, we will have hurt them for life and lost their respect.

Parenting children is complicated. Parenting rebellious teenagers is even more so. But as parents, we have one chance. Let’s get it right.

[1] Genesis chapters 32 and 33.

[2] Cited in Mayanos Hanezach ad lov. in the bame of Rabbi Moshe of Dulina, a disciple of the Baal Shem Tov.

[3] See Bereshis Rabbah, 74:36 and Rashi to GFenesis 31:46.

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