July 14, 2024
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July 14, 2024
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Our parsha opens with the challenging dynamics between Yosef and his siblings. The Torah relates Yaakov’s favoritism of Yosef, which aroused hatred by the brothers towards Yosef—a hatred exacerbated by Yosef’s two dreams symbolizing his dominance over his siblings. The section then ends with the following statement, “and his [Yosef’s] brothers were jealous of him, and his father kept the matter in mind.”

While the meforshim debate the proper interpretation of the end of this pasuk, the simple understanding of the text seems to be that Yaakov watched the brothers’ infighting from a distance, paying attention to it while perhaps debating internally whether to intercede directly or not. After intervening a bit earlier by challenging Yosef’s interpretation of his dreams, Yaakov continued to monitor the situation, trying to determine whether to get more involved.

In this way, Yaakov’s dilemma is similar to one that parents often face—how to respond when our children fight. Of course, in the story of Yaakov and sons, the intensity and stakes were much higher than the infighting that we face. And yet, the fundamental issue remains the same: When should parents intervene, and when is it better to let our children work out the conflict themselves?

Sibling rivalry often arises the very moment that a second child is born. Together with the excitement of the birth of a younger sibling, inevitably tension arises within the older child, either consciously or unconsciously. Until this point, the older child had the complete attention and love of both parents, whereas now he must share the parents’ attention, amongst many other things, with his new sibling.

And as the siblings grow up together, further tension naturally develops—either due to competing wants, or over specific objects or parents’ love and attention or perhaps familiarity with each other simply breeds annoyance and irritation. As young children, the fighting often manifests itself in one way, whereas for older kids, the conflict typically expresses itself differently.

Most parents dream for their children to be best friends. Yet, the reality often tends to be different. Unfortunately, we view this as a failure on our part, a reflection on our parenting abilities. However, this mindset is often misguided. Undoubtedly, there are strategies that parents can employ to mitigate conflict, and the avira, environment, that parents set in the home can play a role in sibling discord—just as Yaakov’s favoritism towards Yosef fueled the brothers’ animosity. However, our parenting is not the only factor. Many other factors play a role in how siblings relate to each other—in particular the personalities and temperaments of the children.

Once such conflict does occur, the question then becomes whether we should intervene—and if yes, how to do so. In their Book “Siblings Without Rivalry,” Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish present a few different scenarios, and make suggestions regarding how and when a parent should intervene.

One scenario is sibling conflict where no one is in danger of getting hurt. In this case, ideally parents should not get involved, and let the children resolve the conflict themselves. Doing so will enable them to learn how to resolve conflicts, and will also make both sides feel comfortable with the resolution. If due to age or other factors, the children need to be taught how to resolve the conflict, then parents should do the following:

1) Acknowledge the anger that each side feels towards the other

2) Validate both sides, showing appreciation for the challenge in resolving the issue

3) Express faith in their ability to find a mutually agreeable solution

4) Leave the room

A crucial aspect in the approach is maintaining impartiality, ensuring that both sides feel validated. Most often, being partial to one side, even when we are confident that one side is more correct, can create more harm than good.

The second scenario is where there is potential for physical harm to a child. Under such circumstances, Faber and Mazlish suggest that we take the following steps:

1) Interrupt the fighting and describe what you see; Explain why the situation is dangerous

2) Separate the children

3) Allow each child to share their perspective of the situation with you

4) After an appropriate cooling off period, allow them to try and resolve the conflict

And finally, a third scenario arises when the children are simply unable to resolve a conflict themselves. In this case, the parent should bring the parties together and mediate between them directly, in a calm atmosphere. Even here, however, the goal should be to help each side understand the perspective of the other. By doing so, we might even enable the two sides to come to a resolution themselves.

Sometimes, of course, despite our best efforts, there may be conflicts that simply cannot be resolved. Particularly with conflict that arise between adult siblings, or in situations of family tragedy, emotions may run high and battle lines may be drawn. In those situations, our job as parents is to realize our limitations—we can only do so much. We should try to support both sides, and attempt to mediate between the two sides—and then daven to Hashem that the two parties come back together.

In this week’s parsha, we witness the worst of what sibling infighting can cause. As parents, sibling conflict is an extremely challenging and particularly stressful topic. We must ensure to avoid contributing to any sibling conflicts and be thoughtful about when, and how, we involve ourselves in any conflict that does arise. Ultimately, we must realize that at the end of the day, reaching a resolution is not only up to us.

Shabbat Shalom!

Rav Yossi Goldin is the menahel tichon at Yeshivas Pe’er HaTorah, Rebbe at Midreshet Tehilla, and Placement Advisor/Internship Coordinator for the YU/RIETS Kollel. He lives with his family in Shaalvim and can be reached at [email protected].

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