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Ask the Aish Rabbi a Question

Recent Questions:

Sibling Rivalry

I recently attended a family reunion. My parents were there, as well as my brothers with their wives and kids. My brothers are very bitter toward my parents, and have also distanced themselves from me. I think my brothers are jealous of me because I am the only daughter, and I got more attention growing up.

I really want to be close with my family. I have no hard feelings and want to get along. What can I do to have a better relationship with my brothers? The current situation is very painful for me.

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

It is truly frustrating to experience negativity toward us when in reality we did nothing wrong.

But first of all, you need to realize that other people's free will is not in your hands. While you can encourage them in a good direction, ultimately they make their own decisions in life.

How can you build a relationship with your brothers in the future? Here are some suggestions:

1) Send greeting cards to commemorate various holiday or special events, such as Rosh Hashana, a Bar mitzvah, wedding, birth of a child, etc. Snail mail is much better than electronic. Even if you don't hear back from them, just keep sending the cards. Also, call on special occasions to wish them well.

2) Don't hesitate to build an independent relationship with your nieces and nephews. Eventually, these kids will grow up, go off to college, and make their own lives. There is no reason that the tension between you and your brothers should carry over into these relationships as well.

3) Think about your brothers and generate love in your heart. It has a long-distance effect.

4) Make sure this sibling rivalry does not repeat itself with your own children. One of the most beautiful customs in Jewish life is for parents to bless their children at the start of the Friday night Shabbat meal. Girls receive the blessing: "May God make you like the matriarchs Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah." Boys are blessed – not to be like the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – but rather “like Ephraim and Menashe." Why?

One explanation is that Ephraim and Menashe were the first set of Jewish brothers who did not fight. Abraham's two sons – Isaac and Ishmael – could not get along, and their disagreements form the basis of the Arab-Israeli conflict till today. Isaac's two sons – Jacob and Esav – were so contentious that Esav repeatedly sought to kill Jacob and instructed his descendants to do the same. Even Jacob's own sons stumbled when they sold their brother Joseph to slavery in Egypt.

This explains why, when Jacob blessed the Ephraim and Menashe, he purposely switched his hands, blessing the younger Ephraim before the older Menashe. Jacob wished to emphasize there was no rivalry between these brothers. (see Genesis 48:13-14)

It is with this thought that parents bless their children today. For there is no greater blessing than peace among siblings. And it is this same hope that God holds for all the Jewish people. May the days of peace come soon.

Abraham – the First Jew

Why is Abraham considered the first Jew?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

When he was three years old, Abraham looked around at the world of nature with all its perfection, beauty, symmetry, precision, timing, balance, integration, coordination, unity – and he concluded that for the world to be designed so perfectly, there obviously must be an intelligent designer. It was then that Abraham discovered God.

Noah also knew about God, and his descendants Shem and Ever even had a yeshiva! If so, in what way was Abraham different that he is chosen to start the Jewish people?

What makes Abraham unique is not just that he recognized God, but that he understood the need to go out and share this with others. The Midrash likens spiritual knowledge to a bottle of perfume. If you leave the bottle of perfume corked and sitting in a corner, what good is it? Shem and Ever were like a closed bottle of perfume, off studying in a corner somewhere.

But Abraham went out and taught people about monotheism. He pitched his tent, which was open on all four sides, in the middle of an inter-city highway. He authored a 400-chapter book refuting idolatry. And he endured all types of mockery and persecution for holding beliefs that were, to say the least, politically incorrect. In fact, the Torah calls him "Avraham Ha-Ivri" – Abraham the Hebrew. HA-IVRI translates literally as "the one who stands on the other side." The entire world stood on one side, with Abraham standing firm on the other.

Abraham distinguished himself as being a lover of all humanity. When God sought to destroy the corrupt city of Sodom, Abraham was willing to stand up against God and argue that they should be spared. He cared about everyone and viewed himself not as an individual trying to perfect himself, but as the progenitor of a movement to bring God's existence into perfect clarity.

That is the Jewish legacy – serving as an inspiration and a role model for all humanity.

Reason for Slavery

In the Bible, God tells Abraham that his descendents will eventually become slaves, which was fulfill during the awful years in Egypt. Why would God make such a prediction?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

In Genesis 15:7-8, God promises Abraham that he and his descendants will possess the Land of Israel. To which Abraham responds, "How will I know that's true?"

This remark seems out of line. Imagine a father promising his child, "I'll take you to the ball game on Sunday," and the child looks up and says, "Can I really trust you'll do it?" Amazingly, the child is questioning his own father's credibility to stand by a promise.

Similarly with Abraham. Although he was on an extremely high spiritual level (after all, he was talking with God), his comment of "How will I know?" showed that he went too far in testing God's promises. A person of Abraham's stature should not have felt the need to seek any reassurance from God.

For that reason, God had to ordain an experience which would ingrain in Abraham's descendants a greater trust in God. Before the birth of the Jewish nation, it was necessary for this total trust to be set into the spiritual genetics.

So God tells Abraham: "Know that your descendants will be strangers in a land... where they will be enslaved and oppressed" (Genesis 15:14). The remedy is to be enslaved in Egypt. There the Jews will eventually reach a point of realization that it is only God who can save them. They will turn to God with a total heart, cry out, and only then the process of redemption will occur.

And that is precisely what occurred: "The Jews cried out because of their slavery... God heard their cries and remembered his covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob." (Exodus 2:23-24) This was the necessity of Egyptian slavery.

On a personal level, this is a process that each of us has to go through. We have crucial life lessons to learn, and it is precisely for that reason our souls have come to earth in the first place.

Which is not to suggest that we should go out of our way to seek difficulties. But if there is a process that we must undergo, then it is foolish to avoid it. Too often we busy ourselves with petty distractions, in order to escape the confrontation with reality. But it always catches up with us eventually. Because that "difficulty" is part and parcel of our reason for being.