There is a wise Jewish saying: “A little hurt from a kin is worse than a big hurt from a stranger.” (Zohar, Genesis 151b) Why is that? Strangers come and go in our lives. Some remain to become friends, others are barely remembered and, as we move on in life, we leave them behind. But family – that’s a different story.
The closest bonds we will ever form are with our parents and our siblings. They know us intimately and, even with all our faults, they still love us. (Though, admittedly, not everyone is so lucky to have a loving family.)
Next comes the extended family – cousins, aunts, uncles, et al. Some of them we just tolerate, often in an amused way, because families are like fudge – mostly sweet with a few nuts! But we do care about them because they are kin.
Within our own close family circle, we are proud of each other’s accomplishments and boast of them. We hurt when a family member is unhappy. We celebrate birthdays and anniversaries, and we try to be together for important Jewish holidays. That is what family should mean.
I’ve always loved the description of her family by the late Erma Bombeck: “We were a strange little band of characters trudging through life sharing diseases and toothpaste, coveting one another’s desserts, hiding shampoo, borrowing money, locking each other out of our rooms, inflicting pain and kissing to heal it in the same instant, loving, laughing, defending, and trying to figure out the common thread that bound us all together.” I think most families can relate to this warm-hearted description.
When there is a break in a family circle, it can be unbearable. It’s not just a matter of location, for, these days, communication has never been easier and we can connect with family wherever they live. But, when there is a misunderstanding and angry words are exchanged, it can be heartbreaking. We feel as though we have a deep fracture in our very being and life will never be the same again if the family member we once loved is lost to us.
Teenagers are known to be rebellious and that is considered normal. It is necessary for them to become independent, to break away from the sheltering family structure. It can be very hurtful for parents to see them break away, but if they were nourished with your morals and standards of ethical behavior in their childhood, and educated with love, they won’t stray too far. Siblings may have very different ideas from each other as adults, but no one – not even a spouse – can have the same kind of bond, with its childhood memories, shared experiences, old family jokes. It is special.
When strangers hurt you, you may become disappointed or angry, but it doesn’t tear at the fabric of your being. You are not obsessed by it and whatever has happened, you know that you will get over it in time.
It is not the same with families. When there is a break between parents and children or brothers and sisters, it colors every aspect of your life, for the family is your haven, your soft resting-place. When there is a break, your emotional security is gone. We need to feel ourselves one in a world of kinfolk, persons of variety in age and temperament, yet allied to us by an indissoluble bond, which nature has welded before we are even born. A family quarrel does not just leave aches or wounds; it is more like splits in the skin that won’t heal because there’s not enough material. Author Dodie Smith described her family as “that dear octopus from whose tentacles we never quite escape, nor, in our inmost hearts, ever quite wish to.”
So, cherish your family while you still have them. Other things may change us, but we start and end with the family, which is one of G-d’s masterpieces. Having a place to go is your home. Having someone to love is your family. Having both is a blessing.