When one plays the game of association with the word sibling, the first word that usually comes to mind is – rivalry! What does not come to mind as often, although it certainly should is – loyalty! In describing the two brothers who most forcefully and forthrightly came to the defense of their sister Dinah, after she was violated by Shechem, the Torah identifies them as Achei Dinah – Dinah’s brothers (34:26). Rashi, as explained by the Sifsei Chachomim points out it was their devotion to their sister, not an inherently violent nature they may have possessed, that gave them the strength and courage to risk their lives and come to save her.
In every family, the pressures of living together and sharing the love and attention of parents gives rise to feelings of jealousy and rivalry. At the same time, most siblings can rise above the rivalry to attain a strong feeling of loyalty and devotion to each other. So often, brothers and sisters who fight like `cats and dogs’ at home, will willingly and bravely come to the defense of a younger sibling, when it’s outside of home. How can we understand these feelings co-existing within the same person?
In truth, it’s natural for members of the same family to feel united and loyal to each other. After all, the family is the ultimate `team.’ The main question is how can people who are so devoted to each other on the deepest of emotional levels, get involved with constant squabbles, friction and worse? Where do those feelings go when fighting is taking place? The answer is that we humans get distracted very easily. When something annoys us at the moment, we focus on that and forget everything else going on. We love our brothers and sisters, but that is completely forgotten at the moment that they’ve taken something of ours, received more (in our perception) attention from a parent, or have gotten in the way of what I wanted to do or have.
Although much attention is lavished upon dealing with these difficult rivalries, the true test of family cohesion and unity is what takes place outside of home. Do your children defend each other? Would they tolerate someone else insulting, belittling or harming their brother or sister? Are they helpful to each other outside the home? At school we get much Nachas from seeing the concern siblings have for each other if their lunches get accidentally mixed up, or if one ended up with the other’s books or materials. There’s no doubt the scene at home is frequently very different, but when it counts, they’re there for each other.
What happens if this unity is lacking outside of home? This may or may not be a serious problem. Either way, it requires attention. It may only necessitate your talking to your children about how we are devoted to each other and look out for each other away from home. For most children this comes naturally, but as with any developing midah or habit – if it doesn’t happen by itself we need to make it happen. Be aware of it, point it out, and direct your children in the proper way of relating to each other. If there seems to be a deeper issue, it must be addressed. If you can’t get them to feel the love through your intervention, get help.
The unity of Klal Yisrael begins with the family. By strengthening the bonds between our children, we are promoting Ahavas Yisrael, which will bring us untold Nachas, and bring the Third Bais Hamikdosh, may it be built speedily, in our day.
Best wishes for a unifying Shabbos,
Rabbi Kalman Baumann