• Rabbi Marc Kraus

A Rift is Never Worth It

Janice Carpenter had always had a strained relationship with her eldest daughter Gloria. That relationship reached crisis point when Gloria went on vacation instead of attending a family wedding. When Gloria returned, Janice refused to speak to her, becoming angrier with each passing day. She felt Gloria's behavior was "unforgivable." Days turned into months and months turned into years. Looking back, Janice reported, "I should have had a heart-to-heart with Gloria right away.” [1]

For those who actually experience a family rift, the result is catastrophic. Parents who are estranged from their children report that it is a persistent source of depression. They feel a sense of incompleteness and the unresolved situation is a source of great pain, especially towards the end of their lives.

The Torah tells of how Joseph is hurled into a pit by his brothers and sold into slavery in Egypt. They tell their father that Joseph is dead and never attempt to find him again. For his part, Joseph never sends a letter home once he makes it out of prison. Perhaps they were "dead to him" as well. Only their surprise appearance before him in Egypt brings the family back together. Yet, immediately following their father's death, the brothers worry that Joseph has just been waiting to punish them for what they did to him. In order to spare themselves, the brothers pretend their father left a message on his deathbed instructing Joseph to forgive them. Of course, Jacob had done no such thing and so from this Rabbi Eleazar concludes “one is allowed to lie for the sake of peace.”[2]

Even when the relationship will forever be strained or difficult, we should try to maintain our family ties. According to the rabbis, its a cause worth lying for. Rifts should be nipped in the bud because it only becomes harder to re-establish contact over time.

The problem parents face is that they tend to be more invested in their children than their children are in them. What this means that it's usually the parents who have to compromise. We tend to think that certain behaviors are “unforgivable.” Yet, we should each ask ourselves, what does “unforgivable” really mean?

Gwen Hagerman recounts her own story:

My daughter had an affair with my second husband. I was absolutely devastated, and she admitted the truth. For a few years we were estranged. But then, what do you do? I thought, "My God, this is the only daughter I have!" And I realized that she wasn't entirely to blame. And so, you can't dwell on the past and you can't be bitter, because in the long run the only person you hurt is yourself. I [started] helping her take care of her children, whom I adored, and we're friends today. You have to let things go. They're over and done with – you can't do anything about it, so let it be. [3]

Gwen’s story challenges all of us to rethink our grudges: Can they really be so important we are willing to throw away family relationships forever?

[1] 30 Lessons for Living, Karl Pillemer, p111. Slightly reworked. [2] BT Yeb 65b. [3] Ibid. p 114-5.

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