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Sunday, 16 August 2015

Treating your family like creatures

Daf Yomi Nedarim 84


A colleague told me about a funeral he did for a man who was incredibly beloved in the community.  He was always there to help anyone in need.  You could call this fellow any time of day or night and he was always available.   You should have heard the amazing stories they told at the funeral.  Here was a man that people considered almost an angel, such was his self-sacrifice for others.

But as each ensuing eulogizer arose to tell of the deceased’s selfless life, my friend watched as the family sat in the front row stone-faced.  You see, while he was unbelievably beneficent to everyone else, he hardly had any time left in his life for his poor wife and children.

Mishnah: If a woman declared, ‘I vow to abstain from all human beings,’ her husband cannot revoke the vow and she may take of the leket, shikcha and peah (the farmer’s tithes for the poor).
Gemara: The fact that the husband cannot revoke the vow demonstrates that she may continue to receive sustenance from him.   The implication is that he is not included in her stipulation ‘all human beings.’
Rava asked Rav Nachman: Is the husband then not a human being?

Some people are the epitome of charm and friendliness with everyone they meet, from their colleagues to their neighbours to strangers.  They have all the time in the world for them.  But then they get home and give their loved ones short-shrift.

Listen to the wise words of Rava: Is your husband then not a human being?  Is your wife not a human being?  Are your children not human beings?  Are your parents and siblings not human beings?  You have so much time and respect for everyone else who are mere human beings, but those close to you get the short end of the stick?!  Are they not human enough for you?

Actually, the word employed by the Mishnah to describe every other human being is briyos – creatures.  In Ethics of the Fathers, Hillel teaches that Aaron the High Priest loved briyos and brought them close to the Torah.  Our Sages explain that he loved human beings for the mere fact that they were creatures/creations of the Almighty.  They may have had no other redeeming quality other than being the handiwork of Heaven.  That was sufficient reason for Aaron to love them.  And when you love a stranger that should likewise be your motivation.

But your loved ones, of course, are not strangers.  They’re more than mere briyos.  Why do you sometimes find it hard to avoid stressing out at them?  You would never react that way to a stranger.   And yet your spouse and children, whom you are meant to love more than anyone else in the world, you seem to lose your patience with!  Why is that? 

The answer is that your connection, your bond, to them runs much deeper than the briyos connection.  You have a soul-connection with them.  A cohen may not attend a funeral, other than that of his seven closest relatives: father, mother, son, daughter, sister, brother, spouse.   Your bond with these seven is beyond the physical.  It is a deeply spiritual connection.  That’s why an inexplicable tension exists between you and them that is utterly different to your relationship with anyone else in the world. 

But the deeper, more spiritual the bond, the more that is at stake.  And that’s why the challenge of maintaining and growing those relationships are so fraught with tension.  They are extremely powerful Heavenly relationships.  You have a soul-bond with them.  They are not just briyos.  You must work especially hard and devotedly to achieve your destiny on earth with them the same way your spiritual destinies are intertwined.


Your loved ones are not human.  They are so much more than that to you.  May you merit fusing Heaven and earth so that you reveal the deep spiritual bonds that exist between you and your top seven!