My wife is currently not talk to her mother. She is an only daughter, and with her father’s passing nearly a year ago, there was a lot of money from the life insurance. My wife is very upset that her mother hasn’t shared any of it with her, especially as we could really use it. I think I could intervene and restore the peace but I wonder from a strictly Jewish/halachic perspective, should one take sides in a family dispute, or just avoid it altogether. And if taking sides, under what would circumstances do you think that would be OK?
Peace is a supreme value. The ancient Rabbis famously tell us how we should strive to be like Aaron the High Priest, who loved peace and pursued peace. There is no reason to suggest that this didn’t include members of his own family. The Talmud (Yevomot 62b) discusses the merits of peacekeeping and includes “one who draws his relatives close.”
One well-known Biblical story is when Miriam, sister of Moses, in sympathy with what she perceived as the plight of her sister-in-law Tziporah, sought to intervene. It didn’t quite go to plan. This teaches that inasmuch as one chooses to wade into a family dispute in the hope of restoring unity, there are bigger risks, hence greater sensitivity should be exercised and personal prejudices must not weigh in the equation.
Some classic sources (Maharal) state: “A person who turns to those who are close to him… and draws them closer is rewarded in kind… G-d declares, ‘I too am your Relative (karov),’… and He responds to that person’s own needs.”
There is a famous Mishna we recite each morning as part of our prayer service which discusses rewards we receive in both this world and the next. One of the examples mentioned is one who makes peace between husband and wife or between friends, etc. On this, the Rabbis ask: “What is different about peace, versus everything else mentioned? They explain that many of the mitzvot require a certain time and place for their performance. Whereas the mitzvah of generating peace is not bound by any time, any place, or any specific circumstance. We have to continually strive to promote and maintain peace in our own lives and the lives of others.
Taking sides has to be weighed up in balance and only with the objective of knowing you will be able to restore peace. If you are just going to be perceived as taking sides and exacerbating the situation then you are best to leave it alone.
Finally, you might want to share with your wife and her mother the following: Someone once came crying to the Lubavitcher Rebbe, having fallen out with her mother over finances. The Rebbe, who was in the year of mourning for his mother, replied: “I lost my mother earlier this year. Do you know how much money I would give to have her back with me even for a few fleeting moments; and yet you are not talking to your mother because of money?”
My daughter is dating a non-Jewish boy. As much as he talks about converting, I know that will never happen. Is there something I could say to her that will make enough of a difference so that she doesn’t shame the family like this?
This is not about shaming the family. That sounds simply selfish. Sparing your blushes at the expense of her love? If you start on that premise you’ve lost the argument before you started. This is about abandoning the faith and forsaking her whole future.
There is a balance that has to be struck between maintaining a strong stance against intermarriage – in defence of the sacredness of Jewish marriage, heritage and future — and never, ever shutting the door in the face of those who may have veered off the traditional path. While much damage has been done, we are not past the point of no return.
I should add that even if he was to convert, it is not a viable option. If someone marries out and then looks to sanction the relationship through some slapstick conversion process, it makes a mockery of the religion in general. Only a sincere conversion out of genuine conviction and absolute commitment is acceptable.
I received a letter from one reader of this column in which she enclosed a very touching poem that she sent to her daughter in similar circumstances. I think it says everything. If the author of that poem and letter is reading this, though she only signed off with her first name I want to record my thanks to her for sharing it, and to assure her and you that your children are in all our prayers:
Our achievement as Jews, throughout every generation
Are nothing short of something that is so incredible you cannot explain
It is not logic at all
And some are scared by that and treat us with disdain;
You cannot let your heritage
Rich and true
Just slip away
Because you love a non-Jew
That’s really a tragic thing to do;
I am so sad that I was unable to transmit
Even part of the huge canvas
Painted so brilliantly, that you are part of and is part of you;
You may not believe in words “a special soul”
But your people, although not perfect, are unique.
Others, throughout the ages have shared
What we have to give;
May you inspire,
With something of who you are
And know that there is always an open door
For you to learn more
And play a part in the future of your people
Justly proud of its past and present
And confident in its future.