Tuesday, January 31, 2012

If you had followed my advice... / Yitro

Harry Truman once said: “I have found the best way to give advice to your children is to find out what they want and then advise them to do it.” What is true for advising children, is true for adults, according to humorist Henry Wheeler Shaw, who said, “When a man comes to me for advice, I find out the kind of advice he wants, and I give it to him.”

Receiving advice can be tough. How many of us deep down feel that if we need advice, it’s because there’s something lacking in us? Or perhaps that seeking or accepting advice from a certain source is demeaning? Proffering advice is no easier: Will the recipient follow it? And if they ignore it, how will we feel?

This week’s parashah, Yitro, gives us a beautiful model for giving sound advice in a way that it can be received.

When the Israelites first encounter Yitro after coming out of Egypt, Yitro finds Moses serving as judge for the entire nation of Israel. The people stand in line “from morning until evening.” (Reminds me of the MVA).
…[Yitro] said, “What is this thing that you are doing to the people? Why do you act alone, while all the people stand about you from morning until evening?” Moses replied to his father-in-law, “It is because the people come to me to inquire of God. When they have a dispute, it comes before me, and I decide between one person and another, and I make known the laws and teachings of God.” But Moses’ father-in-law said to him, “The thing you are doing is not right; you will surely wear yourself out, and these people as well. For the task is too heavy for you; you cannot do it alone. Now listen to me. I will give you counsel, and God be with you! (Exodus 18:14-19)
Moses, who demands that Pharaoh release the Israelites from his suffocating grasp, helps launch the Ten Plagues, leads the Israelites out of Egypt and through the Reed Sea, and who sees them through a war with Amalek, now needs advice on how to do something as simple as sitting in judgment? Piece of cake!

Apparently not. The line of disputants flows out Moses’ tent like a snaking river in the desert for who knows how long. (Again, picture the MVA.) Yitro recommends a far more efficient system:
You shall also seek out from among all the people capable men who fear God, trustworthy men who spurn ill-gotten gain. Set these over them as chiefs of thousands, hundreds, fifties, and tens, and let them judge the people at all times. Have them bring every major dispute to you, but let them decide every minor dispute themselves. (Exodus 18:21-22)
We are told that Moses graciously heeded his father-in-law and did just as he had said (Exodus 18:24).

It seems to me that there are four things Yitro does to make it easier for Moses to accept his excellent advice.

First, Yitro blesses Moses: Blessed be the Lord… who delivered you from the Egyptians and from Pharaoh… He then brings a sacrifice for God. What a powerful affirmation of who Moses is and all he has done!

Second, Yitro focuses not on his curriculum vitae, but rather on his relationship with Moses. While the parashah opens by formally identifying him as Yitro priest of Midian, Moses’ father-in-law (Exodus 18:1), with his title upfront, in the passage recounting the advice he imparts to Moses, Yitro is referred to only as Moses’ father-in-law and this no fewer than five times. Yitro understands the crucial value of establishing a close and trusting relationship before presuming to dispense advice. This way, the advice is accepted as a gift of love, rather than a critique of the recipient.

Third, Yitro does not present himself as an authority. He does not point out that as priest of Midian, he himself is a judge. Rather, he first appeals to the needs of the people: What is this thing that you are doing to the people? (Exodus 18:14) He follows this with an appeal to Moses’ welfare: you will surely wear yourself out, and these people as well (Exodus 18:18). Yitro expresses concern for others, not his own special knowledge or superiority.

Fourth, Yitro delivers his advice, says no more, and excuses himself. Then Moses bade his father-in-law farewell, and he went his way to his own land (Exodus 18:27). Yitro does not stick around to see if Moses has meticulously followed his advice; he trusts Moses to be the leader he is.

Small wonder that Moses can accept his father-in-law’s advice. Yitro has affirmed him and emphasized their close familial relationship. Yitro’s motivation is the welfare of the people and of Moses, not his own self-aggrandizement. And having dispensed his advice, he does not remain to judge Moses’ implementation.
© Rabbi Amy Scheinerman

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Hope where you'd least expect it / B'Shallach

I grew up reading Snoopy cartoons, the creation of Charles M. Schulz (1922-2000), each day. From the page of the newspaper, Snoopy said, “Yesterday I was a dog. Today I’m a dog. Tomorrow I’ll probably still be a dog. Sigh! There’s so little hope for advancement.” Curiously, Snoopy didn’t shut out the possibility of hope: “so little hope” suggests there is some. Apparently “hope springs eternal” even in dogs.

The Israelites are struggling with hope. Despite being witness to God’s power and miracles in Egypt, they arrive at the Reed Sea no wiser.
As Pharaoh drew near, the Israelites caught sight of the Egyptians advancing upon them. Greatly frightened, the Israelites cried out to the Lord. And they said to Moses, “Was it for want of graves in Egypt that you brought us to die in the wilderness! What have you done to us, taking us out of Egypt? Is this not the very thing we told you in Egypt, saying, ‘Let us be, and we will serve the Egyptians, for it is better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness’?” (Exodus 14:10-12)
At one and the same time, the Israelites are gripped by fear (“greatly frightened”), sure they are doomed (“it is better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness”), and looking for someone to blame for their predicament (“What have you done to us, taking us out of Egypt?”). But they also evince a glimmer of hope (“the Israelites cried out to the Lord”).

Hope is what makes it possible for all of us to face -- well, everything. Even Snoopy had some hope. We hope for improved health, greater success, better relationships. We hope that what plagues us will give way to our own personal redemption. We hold out hope for ourselves and for our loved ones. The nasty irony of hope is that the worse things are and the more you need it, the harder it is to hold on to.

It sounds like pious platitude to say, “So long as we are alive, there is reason to hope.”
But the Rabbis go further. They tell that hope extends beyond life. Midrash Pirkei de-Rabbi Eliezer tells us that Pharaoh’s story does not end with his death in the Reed Sea.
R. Nechunia b. Hakkanah said: Know the power of repentance. Come and see from Pharaoh, king of Egypt, who rebelled most grievously against the Rock, the Most High, as it is said, Who is the Lord that I should hearken to his voice? (Exodus 5:2). In the same way that [Pharaoh] sinned through speech, he repented through speech, as it is said, Who is like You, O Lord, among the mighty? (Exodus 15:11). The Holy One Blessed be God delivered [Pharaoh] from among the dead. Whence do we know [Pharaoh] died? Because it is said, I could have put forth my hand and stricken you… (Exodus 9:15). [Pharaoh] went and ruled Nineveh. The men of Nineveh were writing fraudulent deeds, everyone robbed his neighbor, they committed sodomy, and similar wicked deeds. When the Holy One Blessed be God sent for Jonah to prophesy the destruction of [Nineveh], Pharaoh heard and arose from his throne, rent his garments, clothed himself in sackcloth and ashes, and had a proclamation made to all his people that they should fast for two days… (Pirkei de-Rabbi Ishmael, Friedlander pp. 341-2)
The midrash tells us that all the Egyptians who pursue Israel drown in the Sea, save one. Pharaoh alone survives. Just prior to his death, he does teshuvah: he repents and acknowledges God. After his death, God resurrects him and seats him on the throne of Nineveh, king of the very city to which the prophet Jonah is sent. Pharaoh has changed; he understands what is at stake. He leads his people in fasting and repentance. They now have hope. Pharaoh, whose unyielding stubbornness doomed the Egyptians, saves the Ninevites.

What a stunning rabbinic imaginary excursion! Hope sustains every human being who is caught in Mitzrayim. Mitzrayim, the Hebrew word for “Egypt” means the “narrow straits.” It can readily be understood as a metaphor for all that traps, frightens, and threatens us. Hope need never die. Even death itself does not eclipse hope. This isn’t to say that any of us are counting on resurrection and a seat on the throne of Nineveh, but it is a reminder that good often emerges out of the darkest events. Does this redeem the events that devastate our lives? That’s for each individual to judge for him or herself. But hope abides where we give it a home, and its timeline stretches beyond ours.

© Rabbi Amy Scheinerman

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Measure twice, cut once / Parshat Bo

I was a fan of “This Old House,” a PBS program in which old houses were rehabbed in wonderfully creative ways. Norm Abrams -- carpenter par excellence -- came to be a regular feature on the show and eventually spun off his own show about carpentry. He then published a book entitled Measure Twice, Cut Once: Lessons from a Master Carpenter. When my husband finished our basement many years ago, this was his mantra: “Measure twice, cut once.” (He also had a slogan: “Abba Construction Company: if it’s straight, it’s a miracle.”)
More than a principle for carpentry, “Measure twice, cut once” is a principle for life. Anyone who has hit the reply button too quickly and sent out a nastygram knows. Anyone who has spewed personal venom at another person in a fit of pique knows. Anyone who has dashed off an analysis of something only to realize two days later that it was lopsided and missed the mark, knows.

This is what came to mind when I read a verse in parshat Bo that seems very much out of place. We find it not once, but twice. First, following the commandment to eat unleavened bread each year and tell our children the story of our redemption from servitude in Egypt, Torah tells us:
And this shall serve you as a sign on your hand (l’ot al yad-kha) and as a reminder on your forehead (u’l’zikaron bein einekha) -- in order that the Teaching of the Lord may be in your mouth -- that with a mighty hand the Lord freed you from Egypt. You shall keep this institution at its set time from year to year. (Exodus 13:9-10)
And again after instructing the Israelites to dedicate to God the firstborn of their cattle and offspring. Torah says that when a child inquires about the meaning of the sacrifice of the firstborn of the cattle, and the redemption of firstborn sons, one must explain:
…Therefore I sacrifice to the Lord every first male issue of the womb, but redeem every firstborn among my sons. And so it shall be as a sign upon your hand (l’ot al yad-kha) and as a symbol before your eyes (u’l’totafot bein einekha) that with a mighty hand the Lord freed us from Egypt. (Exodus 13:15-16)
The phrase “a sign on your hand and a symbol/reminder before your eyes” is well known to us from the Shema that is recited twice daily, but that comes from Deuteronomy 6:8 which reads slightly differently: Bind them as a sign on your hand and let them serve as a symbol before your eyes… We now have three occurrences of “a sign on your hand and a symbol before your eyes.”

In the first instance, the eating of matza serves as the sign and symbol. In the second, the redemption of the firstborn is the sign and symbol. In Shema, all of Torah is the sign and symbol. From this we can learn that anything can be a reminder of what is truly important if we invest it with symbolic meaning. A paperweight on your desk can serve to remind you that your opinions should carry weight, and therefore you should let them be heard. A child’s drawing -- framed and visible -- can remind you to value the efforts of everyone.

Another observation. In the first instance of “a sign upon your hand and remembrance before your eyes,” both “sign” and “remembrance” are singular, but in the other two occurrences, “sign upon your hand” is singular, while “symbol before your eyes” is plural. One for the hand; two for the eyes.

The Sages long ago decided to interpret this verse literally, and accordingly created tefillin. But for us moderns, the hand represents what do in the world -- our physical, psychological, emotional impact on the world. Eyes represent our perceptions and ideas; eyes are gateway to the brain. The eyes require twice as much attention, symbolism, reminder as the hand. This is a great lesson for many of us: think twice before acting. Measure twice, cut once.

© Rabbi Amy Scheinerman

Monday, January 9, 2012

Group work? Oh no! / Parshat Va'era

When my kids were young, they hated and dreaded “group work.” This meant that four kids would be assigned a project, and all share the grade it earned. Most often, the children in my kids’ group would leave it to my kid to do all or most of the work and earn them all an “A.” It was not a happy experience because the teachers did not organize group projects to foster responsibility and genuine collaboration between the students.

Most of us grew up in schools that required us to work by ourselves, and considered collaborative work “cheating.” We studied alone, wrote papers alone, and did projects alone. How many times did we hear the teacher’s mantra, “I want to see your work alone; no one else’s”?

Yet real life -- outside the classroom -- is group work. Collaboration generates more ideas, enhances creativity, and invites the best in everyone to come to the fore. Every engineer, physicist, physician, nurse, musician, politician, and educator will tell you that collaboration is an essential part of his or her work. And consider this too: what is family life, if not a collaborative effort?

The story of the Exodus -- as it is commonly recalled -- spotlights Moses as a unique and singular leader, possessing abilities beyond those of most mortals. Moses is leader, prophet, and co-redeemer of Israel. He is even Moshe Rabbeinu, the quintessential rabbi, in the minds of the Talmudic Sages. Who else fits that description?

What is more, we think of the Exodus as a tale of independence. In fact, it’s a tale of interdependence: between people, and between God and Israel. It’s a tale of collaboration and cooperation. Sometimes there is trust; sometimes not. Sometimes the relationships are marked by love and sometimes by anger.

Maybe Cecil B. DeMille didn’t get it quite right. This week’s parashah, Va’era, chronicles Moses’ first audience with Pharaoh as well as the first seven plagues. I can still see Charlton Heston in my mind’s eye (and on the screen if I pull the DVD off the shelf), rod in hand, robust and self-assured, standing before Yul Brenner and demanding the freedom of the Hebrew slaves. Charlton Heston didn’t have a speech impediment. But Moses did (Exodus 4:10-16). That is why John Carradine, as Aaron, stood at his side to serve as his spokesman. But in The Ten Commandments, Aaron did little more.

I want to suggest that Aaron did a good deal more. The drama begins when Aaron cast down his rod in the presence of Pharaoh and his courtiers, and it turned into a serpent (Exodus 7:10). Neat trick, but easily replicated by Pharaoh’s sorcerers and magicians. Aaron’s rod/serpent then swallows their rods. Also very cool. Note that Moses stands by watching the action.

From here we move to the plagues. Picture Charlton Heston extending his rod and threatening the pharaoh of Egypt. Then consider these passages. Who initiates the plagues, Moses or Aaron?
And the Lord said to Moses, “Say to Aaron: Take your rod and hold out your arm over the waters of Egypt -- its rivers, its canals, its ponds, all its bodies of water -- that they may turn to blood; there shall be blood throughout the land of Egypt, even in vessels of wood and stone.” Moses and Aaron did just as the Lord commanded: he lifted up the rod and stuck the water in the Nile in the sight of Pharaoh and his courtiers, and all the water in the Nile was turned into blood… (Exodus 7:19-20).
Apparently, Aaron was instrumental in turning the Nile to blood. Now consider the second plague:
Aaron held out his arm over the waters of Egypt, and the frogs came up and covered the land of Egypt. (Exodus 8:2)
And the third plague:
Aaron held out his arm with the rod and struck the dust of the earth, and vermin came upon man and beast; all the dust of the earth turned to lice throughout the land of Egypt. (Exodus 8:13)
God alone initiates the plagues of wild animals and pestilence. Both Moses and Aaron together initiate the plague of boils -- this is the first time Moses steps into this role. Finally, Moses initiates the plagues of hail and locusts, the only two he initiates alone.

It appears that Aaron’s role is far greater, and more significant, than he is usually credited with having. Moses and Aaron’s collaboration is an excellent example of group work as it should be. Together, they helped God bring the entire Israelite nation out of Egypt. It wasn’t Moses alone. It was a “group work.” This is what schools and universities are beginning to teach our children. This is what some of us need to learn to do, or to do better.

You’ve heard the expression “lone wolf?” Well, it’s an oxymoron. Consider this (from a website about wolves): “Wolves are an extremely social animal. They exist as a social unit called a pack. Wolves travel and hunt in a group and perform almost all other activities in the company of fellow wolves.”

There’s a lot we can learn from wolves: we are stronger, more creative, and more productive together. Many corporations have learned this and foster collaborative work environments. Many families have learned this and foster stronger, closer relationships. It’s not always easy. Working with people, like living with people, is fraught with all sorts of challenges. We have to learn to listen more than we talk, affirm others before expecting them to affirm us, consider ideas that initially sound off-the-wall, and above all be patient. But when we bring our best ideas and personality traits to the table, we bring out the best in others. Win-win.
I've heard that many universities are doing an excellent job at organizing and supporting "group work" experiences. Hopefully, schools and universities will continue to improve their efforts to foster constructive group work and prepare their students for a lifetime of productive collaboration.

My youngest son just this minute called from college. His first week of classes has gone well, but they’re going to assign group work in his engineering class. He’s apprehensive. I'm hoping he's pleasantly surprised.

© Rabbi Amy Scheinerman

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The blessing of life / Shemot

Torah draws a straight line between the notion of blessing and fertility. God’s first blessing is fertility. On the fifth day, God creates the winged and sea-dwelling creatures and Torah tells us: God blessed them, saying, “Be fertile and increase, fill the waters in the seas, and let the birds increase on the earth” (Genesis 1:22). Then again on the sixth day, after bringing forth humanity: God blessed [humanity] and God said to them, “Be fertile and increase, fill the earth…” (Genesis 1:28).

As the Book of Genesis begins with blessing, it also closes with blessing. In parshat Vayechi, Jacob blesses his grandsons Ephraim and Manasseh, and then all his sons, including this dramatic blessing for Joseph, which also speaks of fertility:
The God of your father who helps you,
And Shaddai who blesses you
With blessings of heaven above,
Blessings of the deep that couches below,
Blessing of the breast and womb. (Genesis 49:25)
It’s not surprising then that the Book of Exodus opens with the very same notion. No sooner are we told the names of the sons of Jacob who descended into Egypt than:
But the Israelites were fertile and prolific; they multiplied and increased very greatly, so that the land was filled with them. (Exodus 1:7)
Torah, which usually uses words sparingly, elaborates on the generativity of the Hebrews, generously supplies four separate words to describe the fertility of the Israelites paru va’yish’r’tzu vayirbu va’ya’atzmu (“fertile and prolific, multiplied and increased”), then adds b’me’od me’od (“very greatly”) and even continues va’timalei ha’aretz otam (“the land was filled with them”). And of course the account that follows tell us that Pharaoh is spooked by the proliferation of Hebrews in his midst and not only enslaves them but launches a genocidal plan, enlisting the midwives Shifrah and Puah to help.

Certainly children are a blessing. And there are certainly other blessings besides. But the emphasis Torah places on procreation -- both human and animal -- led our Sages to what I believe was a bad call in interpreting Genesis 1:28 as prescriptive, rather than description. That is to say: they declared procreation to be a commandment. When God says, “Be fertile and increase,” (Genesis 1:28) this is a description of the very nature of the human species. Like the animals created the fifth day (Genesis 1:22), humanity is self-sustaining. God created once and now people and animals will procreate in order to sustain creation. Just as the animals cannot be commanded to reproduce, it is absurd to think that God commanded each and every human to reproduce. Yet this is precisely how the Rabbis choose to read Genesis 1:28.

Thus we find in the Mishnah:
No man may abstain from keeping the law Be fertile and increase (Genesis 1:28), unless he already has children: according to the School of Shammai, two sons; according to the School of Hillel, a son and a daughter, for it is written, Male and female He created them (Genesis 5:2). (m. Yebamot 6:6)
When the Rabbis say “no man may abstain…” they mean “no Jewish man may abstain.” This points to yet another inconsistency and absurdity, since Genesis 1:28 concerns all humanity, not just Jews. Mishnah assumes the obligation and quickly turns to how many of each sex one is obligated to produce. What does this say to, and about, people who choose not to become parents? What does this say to, and about, people who are infertile? Are they in violation of God’s law? Yet how can they “obey”? But wait, it gets worse. Again from Mishnah Yebamot 6:6 --
If [a man] married a woman and lived with her ten years and she bore no child, it is not permitted him to abstain [from fulfilling this mitzvah]. If he divorced her she may be married to another and the second husband may live with her for ten years. If she had a miscarriage the space [of ten years] is measured from the time of the miscarriage.
This is downright draconian -- harsh and pitiless. Marriage has been reduced to an arrangement to facilitate the man’s presumed obligation to procreate, as derived by the Rabbis from Genesis 1:28. Not surprisingly, there is plenty of pushback as well in the Rabbinic tradition. My favorite example is a midrash in Pesikta de-Rav Kahanah (22:2) that tells the story of a loving couple who come to R. Shimon b. Yochai because although married for a decade, they have no children. The husband invites his wife to take with her whatever she considers most precious from his house when she leaves. From this, we (and R. Shimon) understand the quality of their love. R. Shimon then instructs the couple to spend their last night together just as they spent their first night together, beginning with good food and drink. So they do. Food, drink… What else did they do on their first night together? When the husband finally falls asleep, the wife has her servants transport him to her father’s house. The husband wakes up confused by his surroundings, prompting his wife to explain that she did precisely what he bade her: she took what was most precious to her: him. The midrash makes it clear that this couple did not divorce. Love trumps fertility in importance.
This brings us back to the question: Is blessing primarily about procreation? Is that what Pharaoh sees in the Hebrews that frightens him? But the Israelites were fertile and prolific; they multiplied and increased very greatly, so that the land was filled with them (Exodus 1:7). Pharaoh notes their numbers: And he said to his people, “Look, the Israelite people are much too numerous for us…” (Exodus 1:9). Pharaoh sees a good deal more than the birthrate of the Hebrews. He sees that this is a people that loves life, that considers life itself the greatest blessing -- in its fullness, robustness, richness. Such people threaten his power, which depends on the diminution and devaluation of human life. In its essence, blessing is not about procreation; it’s about life itself, the greatest and ultimate blessing of God. The trick is not necessarily to engender more lives, but to engender more life.

© Rabbi Amy Scheinerman

Monday, January 2, 2012

Brothers / Parshat Vayechi

The Rabbis tell the story of two brothers who were utterly selfless; each placed the welfare of the other before himself. They shared a wheat field they had inherited from their father. The married brother reasoned that his single brother needed more wheat because he had no children to care for him in his old age. The single brother reasoned that the married brother needed more wheat because he had more mouths at home to feed. It’s a beautiful ideal.

When I was growing up, it was accepted wisdom that siblings compete, fight, resent one another, and therefore have great difficulty getting along. Psychology had taught that this is “normal,” and at least where I grew up, parents set their expectations and responded to their children’s behavior accordingly.

Psychologists could have used Genesis as their proof text: Cain and Abel, Isaac and Ishmael, Jacob and Esau, Joseph and his brothers. What happens in the next generation?

Joseph has two sons born in Egypt: Manasseh and Ephraim. Thus far Torah has recorded their names (Genesis 41:50-53), but not a word or act of either. Manasseh and Ephraim figure prominently in the events recorded in parshat Vayechi although the words and actions are not theirs. Why is it, then, that we bless our sons, “May God make you like Ephraim and Manasseh?” Why not “Abraham and Isaac” or “Jacob and Joseph” or “David and Solomon”? What’s so exemplary about these brothers -- whose words and actions are not even recorded in Torah -- that they are the model for our sons, shabbat after shabbat and generation after generation?

Parshat Vayechi recounts Jacob’s blessing of Joseph’s sons, and it entails several peculiarities. First, Jacob wishes to (at least symbolically) adopt the sons of Joseph born in Egypt -- outside Eretz Yisrael, away from the family hearth -- Ephraim and Manasseh.
[On his deathbed] Jacob said to Joseph, “El Shaddai appeared to me in Luz in the land of Canaan and blessed me, saying to me: ‘Behold, I will make you fruitful and multiply you; I will make you a multitude of peoples and I will give this land to your seed after you as an everlasting possession.’ Now, then, your two sons born to you in the land of Egypt before my arrival in Egypt -- they are mine; Ephraim and Manasseh will be to me like Reuben and Simeon. But your progeny whom you engender after them are yours; they will be called by their brothers’ names in their family allotment.” (Genesis 48:3-6)
Perhaps this is a later retrojection, explaining why there is no tribe of Joseph, yet there are tribes named Ephraim and Manasseh among the twelve tribes of Israel. We cannot ignore, however, that there is something special about Ephraim and Manasseh. What could it be?

Jacob is moved to specially bless Manasseh and Ephraim. Jacob kisses and hugs them. Then their father Joseph positions them to receive their grandfather’s blessing, so that the elder brother, Manasseh, is at Jacob’s right hand, and the younger brother, Ephraim, is at Jacob’s left hand, as custom requires.
But Israel stretched out his right hand and laid it on Ephraim’s head, though he was the younger, and his left hand on Manasseh’s head -- thus crossing his hands -- although Manasseh was the first-born. (Genesis 48:14)
The preference for, or superiority of, the younger over the older is a motif in virtually every generation we have encountered: Isaac and Ishmael, Jacob and Esau, Joseph and his brothers. We will see it again in the generation of King David. Why these boys? There is no reason to think Ephraim has any special attributes or abilities. Jacob’s switch seems arbitrary and unjust.

Perhaps the reason we bless our sons by Ephraim and Manasseh is because these brothers do not reject or hate one another. They do not compete and contend with one another, nor attempt to overpower one another and gain control of the family -- even when their grandfather imposes himself as Jacob did.
The brothers’ silence speaks volumes -- they live together in peace. They teach us one of the secrets to achieving peace in a sibling relationship, or in any other relationship: there are times when we need to hold our peace to have peace, and privilege the relationship above our ego needs of the moment. That takes foresight on the one hand, and humility on the other: foresight to set goals according to the bigger picture and broader implications of our behavior, and humility to do the tzimtzum (contraction) necessary to reach our goals.

© Rabbi Amy Scheinerman