Mussi Jerufi, Beis Moshiach
Several months ago (in The Chassidishe Vibe #1213), we began exploring the inner work of forgiving and letting go of old fights and frictions.
In democratic societies, election years come every now and then, but life is actually a never-ending election campaign. Every day – all day long, we exercise our right to choose. The split seconds when you face the option of being right or being smart are among the most challenging choices you have.
These are the moments to consider whether to let the wave of emotion pass over us – or smash it into fragments. Can we be forgiving and allow ourselves to feel that we’re being thrown under the bus, apologize even though we are certain that we are right?
Working on our middos requires that we deal with our mountainous ego and chop it down to size. This is by no means an easy task – especially when it pertains to members of our family…
Three women who made their choice without concern that they might be making themselves look like “fools” courageously and honestly share the process they chose to carry out, and those forces that motivated them throughout – until they attained the long-awaited reconciliation. We heard from Yael, an older sister who stepped in to help her mother educate her younger sister; we heard from Zehava, a mother-in-law, who was getting the cold shoulder from her new daughter-in-law but chose to ignore and ultimately prevailed.
We continue with this theme and hear from the third in honor of Yom Kippur, a day of forgiveness both bein adam l’Makom and bein adam l’chavero.
DESPITE EVERYTHING, SHE CHOOSES TO SHOW RESPECT
Rochel (not her real name), 43, recalls the early years of her marriage more than two decades ago, when as a young mother, she endured some truly disgraceful behavior and interference from her extended family over the conduct and customs she chose to observe in her own home. “My sisters-in-law and other members of the family were extremely judgmental, and they made certain to express their opinions, interfere in matters pertaining to our children’s education, and not give us our space. This took form in various comments and even in actions designed to bypass us (!) as parents. Despite all their background noises, we refused to give in on our accustomed principles, as we remained focused on our long-term goals – the values we wanted to instill within our children.”
How did you react during those moments?
“I didn’t react impulsively. That’s not my style and I did not intend to change my spots regardless of any feelings of anger or maltreatment. I chose to hold my tongue and consistently promoted the Chassidic customs and mode of education in my home, while I kept a slight distance from those family members determined to ‘poison the well.’ Throughout this process, I kept the objective before me at all times: on the one hand, having respect for others eventhough they showed no appreciation towards us, while assertively adhering to my beliefs.” She explains that after a while, she began to notice a positive change coming from the relatives.
“It was very hard for me during those moments,” Rochel emphasizes. “As someone who knows how to answer back, it required a lot of verbal restraint on my part, and the need to apply some good common sense. I came to the realization that people are different with differing opinions, and while not everyone respects the views of others, I choose to respect them. Among the values serving as the foundation of the home I am building, I show respect for all people, no matter whom, even if I believe they are in error. This sets a living example for my children.” She notes that cooperating with her husband is critical: “Speaking as a couple, working together, marching towards the same destination – are vitally important. Naturally, everything is done judiciously, as in the final analysis, we’re talking about our family, and with all the friction – family is a very treasured commodity.”
Rochel explains what stood before her during those challenging moments and helped her to maintain a straight path every step of the way. “I saw examples of families where the connections between its members were destroyed, and I didn’t want that to happen to me. I wanted the best place in the world for my children. However, I briefly thought about relenting, compromising on my high values and my desire to see our home as the Rebbe, Melech HaMoshiach would want to see it. This was achieved by exercising sovereignty – restraint, knowing how to deal with matters in a respectable way, bestowing respect upon yourself and then naturally upon others.
“From my viewpoint, the word ‘fool’ is not in my lexicon,” Rochel considered it important to note. “When you have the power to choose, you are no fool. You chose – no one compelled you. One of the things I learned in Chassidus, a cornerstone in my life, is the subject of blending the middos, which teaches us to be a kind of coiled spring, expanding and diminishing. The attribute of Tiferes – a blend of Chessed and Gevura – teaches what represents a proper balance. And this is the choice: You are not a ‘fool’, you choose when it’s correct to diminish yourself willingly and when it’s proper to expand and express yourself.
“The avoda of middos is to bring yourself back each time to the home base, to the place where you belong. We advance towards that desired location only when there’s a clear objective. I recommend that each one of you should look inside your home and use every strength and ability contained therein without comparing them to those of someone else. One of the things that helped me as a mother was to imagine how my family would look in another twenty years, how I would want to see them in the future, and even if there were shifts here and there, this was what helped me to remain along the correct path.”
A MODEL FOR CHILDREN
“All of the anger, the insults, and the grudges within the family must be filed in a drawer separate from the rest of the world,” explains Mrs. Nitzan Ron, a certified caregiver and counselor in couples and family therapy, director of the “Ohr HaBayis” Institute in Rechovot. “All matters connected to relationships within the family are pure and holy. Personal accounts, cases of anger outside the realm of family connections, should remain outside and be avoided.”
While this is surely the case, in practical terms, this is very difficult to implement…
“In my opinion, it is quite difficult to carry heavy burdens over a period of many years and pay heavy prices. First and foremost, these prices come in the form of our children’s education. The children see and grasp the nature of relationships within the family – between mother-in-law and daughter-in-law, among members of the more extended family – and the baggage passes directly to them. If we compare prices, we find that there’s no comparison when we consider the price the children pay after absorbing all the negative feelings stored and accumulated over the years. This naturally has an automatic effect upon domestic harmony between husband and wife. Therefore, as a woman, my first thought should be that it makes no difference what my mother-in-law says or does – I’ll be the one to make certain that no conflict develops.”
This requires accepting some very unpleasant realities. How correct is it really to remain silent and restrained?
“I don’t think that this is the correct question. There’s always a way to reach a solution. It would be advisable that anyone who feels angry and insulted should first take a deep breath and calm down. Once you do that, you can perceive things with greater consideration, cold logic, and not react overemotionally. Then, it’s possible to think clearly what prices I have to pay in an atmosphere of confrontation, anger, insult, and injury.” Mrs. Ron suggests weighing carefully the potential profits and losses. “Will the price to be paid cause harm to my children by weakening their relationship with the family? This is something that will follow them over the years, even in the families they raise on their own.
“To pursue this point further, how are you, as a mother, portrayed by your children? Do you serve as a role model for honoring one’s parents? Are you a mother who works on her middos, someone who shows what she really cares about? Are you a mother who judges people favorably and sees the best in everyone?
“To put it simply, what is the source of this insulted feeling? Something childish. I can be totally right and fight hard to prove my point, but what do I gain as a result? It provides nothing. This begs the question: What should I do when the feeling of anger and insult comes to my doorstep? This avoda comes to me so I can grow from it, reach a higher level.” Nitzan explains that the other person is the most accurate gauge on what’s happening inside of us. “We are a reflection of them. Weak relationships that we have with certain people are an opportunity for growth, to break through limitations set within us. For if we would see ourselves in a positive light, if we were comfortable with ourselves – we wouldn’t feel insulted!”
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