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Being raised as an only child in my parents’ home I was spared the experiences and challenges of sibling rivalries. Not having anyone to compete with I was blissfully unaware that there were others who felt that they were also entitled to parental love, weekly allowances and unlimited bathroom privileges. No one ever dared to wear my clothing, play with my toys or read my books without my permission.

Naturally, in school and yeshiva there were constant rivalries but in the main they were never really personal or long lasting. Yet, as all of the biblical commentators point out to us, the book of Bereshith, which we have recently completed in the yearly cycle of Torah readings, is really the book of sibling rivalries. Cain and Abel, Avraham and Lot, Ishmael and Yitzchak, Yaakov and Eisav, Rochel and Leah, Yosef and his brothers are all examples of the intensity of emotion and of the sometime dire consequences of sibling and familial rivalries.
And the consequences and results of these rivalries, over the span of human history and millennia have been great, often tragic and of unending influence. The current turmoil in the Middle East of Sunni versus Shiite, Moslems versus Christians and Jews, and the Arab world against Israel are all basically products of ancient sibling rivalries perpetuated through the ages by familial traditions and the inherent evil nature of human beings.
Currently in USA, I am witness to the interaction of my grandchildren and great- grandchildren, I am happy to report that sibling rivalry is thriving and certainly is alive and well. This is pretty sobering for the old patriarch of the family who firmly believes that all of his offspring are pious, perfect, peaceful and generous to a fault. But as the old Yiddish aphorism goes: “In a time of plague, my goat apparently is also an animal.”
So what is to be done to try and ameliorate the situation? In many if not most cases, sibling rivalries are outgrown. Many situations in life are resolved simply by benign neglect – not doing anything and letting time and life experiences work their magic. The prophets of Israel seem to indicate that this is what will happen regarding the internal squabbles that plague the Jewish world. “What logic cannot heal, time will.”
Unfortunately, patience, silence and waiting are not primarily Jewish traits in our time. But many a serious and even bloody rivalry between families, countries and even religions has dissipated over time. In spite of all of the stabbings, incitement and terrorism that are currently our daily fare, I believe that it is possible for Israel to live in peace, albeit a cold one perhaps, in our ancient homeland.
If we persist in the fatalistic approach that none of our rivalries can ever be overcome, that will certainly fall into the realm of a self-perpetuating prophecy. I regret that I have no plan to recommend as to how to actualize my hopes in this matter. But I am willing to let time run its course and then to see what actually happens.
There is an essential difference between the concept of competitiveness and that of rivalry. Competitiveness presupposes a goal, that if reached, is beneficial to all concerned and is not predicated on the destruction of the “other.” Rivalries have less to do with achieving anything but rather concentrate on depriving others of any gain, even trying to destroy that “other.”
The rabbis of the Talmud proclaimed that “competitiveness amongst Torah scholars increase wisdom (for all concerned.)” Throughout the Talmud we are aware of the differing and competing opinions and personalities of the great men of Jewish tradition. Yet they are in no way viewed as being rivals. In a strange way, their differences of opinion and even of behavior are blended together into the Talmudic way of life and have shaped Jewish tradition until our very day.
The Talmud records for us the competing views of great scholars without passionate rancor or personal insult. Therefore, there are really no rivalries present on its pages. The lessons of the damaging rivalries narrated to us in the Bible were apparently well learned by the men of the Talmud. They attributed the destruction of the Second Temple to the unreasoning climate of hatred generated by the political, religious and social rivalries of the time.
Better to destroy one’s rival than to work with him and compete with him for the common good. The rivalry that remains with us today is a sure recipe for societal sadness, social turmoil and foolish policies. Just look around at our current world of rivalries and dangers.
Shabbat shalom

Berel Wein      

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