Sibling Relationships

sibling relationships

Rabbi Simon Jacobson: Good evening. This is Simon Jacobson with Toward a Meaningful Life. Let me welcome you back after our small hiatus for two weeks due to very important programming, but now we’re back and I welcome you all.

I must say that after our last two shows, there was a really overwhelmingly positive response which were evoked by the topics: “Honoring Parents Who Don’t Seem to Deserve Honor” and “Anger.” We got many angry callers for that last show, and it elicited, both on air and following the show, such interesting responses that it gives me direction—I’ve always said that my attempt for this show is to make it a grassroots type of “voice of the listener” with me as just a sounding board, even though I do the speaking. But I believe that speaking is really about listening and when you listen to the vibes and pick up what people are really concerned with—their issues and dilemmas—it becomes a real guideline and powerful directing force that really allows me, and the Meaningful Life Center, which I have the privilege to head, to provide material, including this show, to respond to that need.

So based on many of the emails and requests that I’ve received, I’ll be doing a series of different shows in the next few weeks that cover the different vices—we’ll call it the “Vice Series” perhaps—whether it’s anger, or jealousy, or hostilities or procrastination, or some of the other negative emotional struggles that we have. But following the show on “Honoring Your Parents,” several people wrote to me and asked if we could do a show about siblings.

Siblings, in an interesting way, can sometimes be even more complicated than our relationship with our parents, which often is black or white. You have healthy parents or unhealthy parents—but a sibling relationship is not like an authority relationship of child and parent, where one is an authority and the other is on the receiving end. Siblings are on more of an equal basis, and as they grow up their relationships are often more complicated.

So whether we’ll title this show “Sibling Rivalry” or “What Our Responsibilities Are to Our Siblings”—brothers and sisters—this is the topic we’ll be addressing this evening. As always, I’d like to hear your comments and feedback and your experiences. Most of us out there have either a brother or sister or both, or several siblings, and the relationships are complicated.

I myself am the oldest of five children, so being the oldest, on the one hand, you are the first to come around, but on the other hand, you also become the person who “victimizes” your younger siblings, whether it is because of their illusion of what you are or as an older brother, and the relationships are quite interesting.

As a matter of fact, I was trying to get one of my own siblings to call in, to have it out here on the air, but I wasn’t able to reach any of them. But if one of my siblings is listening, please call and I won’t mind having an argument with you on the air, and we can perhaps air out some of the battles or difficulties, or even good experiences, that we’ve had.

I have a sister who lives in Connecticut who is two years younger than I am, and I have very pleasant memories of her when we were growing up. But I also have memories of pulling each other’s hair and tearing each other’s books, and other general rivalries and battles that go on: who’s the favorite with the parents, etc. In my case, I remember my sister always being able to run to my father and get sympathy and I would get a dirty look or worse than that. The whole thing is a very interesting dynamic.

I’d like to address this topic both on a practical level and on a root level. Often people come speak to me, and when you really get down to the many issues that people struggle with in their own lives, the obvious culprit is always their father or mother. But often when you dig deeper, you find that the relationship with your siblings is connected with many of our particular issues.

In general, our home life is the foundation of our lives. The place where we grow up in those impressionable years, a “silent” environment with no observers. Nobody’s really ever done extensive studies of our home-life because remember, as soon as an anthropologist or a sociologist begins to study the home, they immediately are affecting the dynamic. Real home-life is non-observable, and what is happening behind closed doors in our homes is really between our parents, ourselves, and our brothers and sisters.

The pathology, healthy and unhealthy, that is created as a result, is really fascinating and, more importantly, it shapes who we are. When people share their different struggles with me—whether they’re having difficulty finding a healthy relationship or other intimacy issues, or just in general, coping at work, trying to make ends meet and live some type of happy life—I always ask them about their relationship with their parents and siblings.

People often tend to minimize and trivialize their sibling relationships, as in, “I don’t really talk to my brother.” Or, “I rarely talk to my brother or my sister.” But the truth is, that is very revealing, because how we interact with the people who are closest to us—those with whom we’ve literally sat side by side at dinners, breakfasts, parties, and even slept in the same bedroom as young children—are the first relationship that we really have before we go out into the world. It precedes our relationships with our classmates at school.

I’m sure a lot of study still has to be done regarding what impact that relationship has on us.

Now, just to put things in context, I’d like to use the Torah as a so-to-speak platform and talk about some of the incidents in the Torah where you find different sibling relationships and what kind of impact they had, both in their lives, but more importantly, historically.

Obviously, the classic sibling rivalry is the first of them all: Cain and Abel in the Garden of Eden. Abel made an offering to G-d and Cain was jealous that G-d liked Abel’s offering better than his own, and ended up killing his own brother, which at the time was like killing a quarter of the world because the population was so small.

First of all, this set in motion the ability for a person to kill his own sibling. In the classical statement in the Bible (the Torah), G-d comes to Cain and says, “Where’s your brother Abel?” and Cain answers, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” he immediately sets the tone of the responsibility we carry for our siblings.

It’s easy to dismiss the importance of our sibling relationships and say, “Hey, parents are responsible for their children, but are a brother and sister responsible for each other? How much do we have to help pick up the pieces?”

You often can see the power of siblings in extreme situations. You find this especially in our day and age—our dysfunctional day and age as they call it—in abusive homes for example (and I use this as an example because sometimes in order to appreciate the sunlight you need to have an eclipse of the sun).

I’ve heard amazing stories of how brothers and sisters really became each other’s allies in the battle zone which was home, when parents were either fighting with each other or with their children. The children themselves turned into great allies for one another, where older brothers or younger siblings ended up being the source of solace and comfort for the other family members.

On the other hand, you also see this dynamic when children are used, G-d forbid, in such a tragic way by parents to help isolate and criticize and stigmatize one of the siblings.

You hear stories where one of the parents literally used one child against the other, or where one child wants to buy the favor of the parent. So you see that these things have a strong impact, and as we grow older, we can laugh at it, but often it’s quite sad and quite tragic.

So we have the Cain and Abel story. But is there another story that counters that? Let’s start with the negative ones. We also have, of course, Joseph and his brothers (each brother later becomes the father of the tribes). Again, it’s a question of jealousy, which leads them to want to kill Joseph, and they end up selling him into slavery.

However, to be fair, we also have to look at the other side of sibling relationships in the Torah. You find the story of the two sisters, Leah and Rachel, in the book of Genesis, and you see the noble behavior of Rachel not wanting to insult and embarrass her older sister. The price that Rachel paid for allowing her sister to marry Jacob, by giving her the signs so that she would not be humiliated, as the Bible explains, was quite an admirable act.

Rachel was not only rewarded because of that, but she ends up being the quintessential mother of the people. The expression attributed to Rachel is “Rochel m’vakeh al baneha,” meaning “Rachel cries for her children.” In many ways, especially Kabbalistically and mystically, Rachel is the epitome of what it means to be a true mother because of her selflessness in how she treated her sister before she even became a mother.

And of course, there’s the story of the two sons of Joseph, Ephraim and Menashe.

(I’m trying to make a type of compendium here, a history of brothers and sisters in the Bible, because I think this is a good backdrop with which to compare your own brothers and sisters: “Are my own brothers and sisters like Cain or are they like Rachel and Leah?” I hope none of you have a brother like Cain because if you did, you probably wouldn’t be around. But I’m speaking figuratively of that type of behavior.)

At the end of the book of Genesis, before Jacob passes away, Joseph brings his sons Ephraim and Menashe to receive a blessing from their grandfather. Although Menashe is the older of the two, Jacob blesses Ephraim with what’s called the superior blessings.

And the story continues that Joseph thinks that maybe his father was mistaken so he tries to put his father’s right hand on Menashe’s head… Anyway, the result is that it does not create any resentment (on the part of the boys); on the contrary, Ephraim does not pull rank and is in no way condescending or arrogant about it, and Menashe is not resentful. He recognizes that each one has his particular role.

As a result of that, interestingly, when we bless our own children today before the Sabbath or other times, we say “May the children be blessed as Ephraim and Menashe were blessed” because of their unity, that even though they ended up having different types of blessings, they demonstrated a kind of love and appreciation for each other that becomes a symbol for what it really means to inspire and educate your own children.

I’d like to share a very moving story from the Midrash that talks about the love of siblings for each other. This story took place before the Temple was built in Jerusalem. The Temple was built on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, and there were many reasons why that mountain was chosen; however, there’s one particular story that stands out.

The story is about two brothers: one had a wonderful wife and a big family, and the other remained single.

These brothers were partners in a wheat farm, and of course they’d split the produce 50-50. Now each of the brothers had compassion for the other brother because of his particular situation. The brother who was single said to himself, “My brother, my partner, has a large family. He’s more in need of this than I am,” so even though they split the wheat 50-50, he would take some of his own bushels and move them to the section that belonged to his brother. And he would do this in the middle of the night so his brother wouldn’t notice.

His brother who was married and had a family said to himself, “You know, my brother is so lonely and so sad, and since he’s alone with no one to take care of him when he grows old, I think he deserves a little more to compensate for his being alone in this world. So he would take some bushels and secretly move them to the section that belonged to his single brother.

Now, this went on for a while, and they both were amazed when every morning upon their return to the granary they would find their piles the same as before they gave away part of their share to the other brother. Each would think, “That’s very strange, because I was taking some of mine and putting it in the other pile. It should have been uneven.”

So some time passed, and one night at around midnight they both happened to be climbing up to the mountain to take from their pile and give it to their brother, and they encountered each other carrying a few bushels in their arms to move to the other brother’s location. They realized what each of them was doing all this time,. Each of them was finding a virtue why he felt that his brother deserved more.

The Midrash concludes that they were so moved by each other’s gesture, that they hugged each other right there on the spot, and G-d then proclaimed it another reason why He would build the Temple there.

So first of all, you see what brotherly love can accomplish, and more importantly, that the message is not just for that generation, or for them and their relationship. It actually created the reason for that holy space, that was dedicated for brotherly love, it was dedicated to that and what kind of perpetual effect that had for generations to come.

When you hear stories like that, and then by contrast, you hear about painful situations of siblings arguing or not even speaking to each other, you wonder what the secret is that some siblings have and others lack.

So some of us have positive experiences, and some of us negative, and I want to address two points: Number one, what does it take and why do some brothers and sisters have excellent relationships and others do not; and number two, what can you do about a situation when the relationships have become strained or even severed?

Let’s begin with the topic of exactly what it takes, what ingredient, for children or siblings to have a loving relationship. This I say both to parents as well as to children who are in an environment and situation where they can still make a choice, because once we grow into adults and go our own way, the approach to healing or dealing with difficult situations is different.

The ingredient is a basic one, which I just described with the story of the brothers, and one final one that I should mention is Moses and Aharon. Moses, Aharon and Miriam were siblings with Aharon being older than Moses. Nevertheless, he was not resentful of the fact that Moses was chosen by G-d to be the one and only Moses. Even though Aharon was the High Priest, still, there’s only one Moses.

As a result of that, Aharon received many different rewards for his lack of resentment. As High Priest, he was given the tzitz, a certain garment (like a crown) that the High Priest wore that represented a very high level of G-dliness.

I’m giving these scenarios as an example, because here, seemingly, it’s very easy for a brother to be jealous of a sibling, especially a sibling who’s younger than he or she is, suddenly assuming a position that’s greater than his.

What it takes is humility. I believe that one of the most serious causes of erosion in our lives today is insecurity, the erosion of the self-value and self-esteem of a human being. When you know your value deep in your heart and soul, there’s so much more that you can tolerate and respect in other people.

It is when you don’t have that type of sense of self, of recognition of your particular role, that you begin to intrude on the boundaries and the barriers of others. And you find this in any particular project, even on a business level. The key to success in multi-level projects that require many different components and many different departments and talents is when the people involved are professionals, meaning that they recognize and are secure with their contribution.

Any project falls apart when any individual component or any individual department is unclear about its role, or feels that another department is trying to infringe upon its role.

You’ll find that insecure people tend to breed insecurity and fear. They tend to try to incite others. You’ll often find in an office/business environment with people who are really bitter that bitterness doesn’t like to be lonely. Anyone who is bitter or insecure will always try to find an ally in his work environment who will support him, because he’s looking for that type of ally so he can say, “It’s not me, it’s all of us that feel that this and this person is no good.”

You see how much strife and hatred can be caused originating from insecurity in one individual.

Now this is even more magnified in a home environment because, at least with work, you are there for a limited period of time and then you have a home to escape to. But if your home becomes a battle zone where people’s insecurities begin to play out, it has dramatic impact on the pathology and the relationship with other people in that particular home.

Now this of course begins with parents themselves. Parents who are insecure, parents who, in a sense, almost see their children as competition to them, tend to project insecurity. What happens is that siblings begin to assume that same insecurity.

One child begins competing with another. Now there is such a thing as healthy competition, but it can get out of hand, like with Cain and Abel, when one person does not really feel that he or she has any value, so the feeling is, “Oh, that one is taking something away from me.”

Now, that type of humility comes from security, which is what Aharon had, what Ephraim and Menashe had, what Leah and Rachel had, and all the great sibling relationships. Each of them understood his or her particular role, and that comes most often from parents and from the type of healthy environment they create.

Parents who are insecure and it’s obviously very difficult to speak to such people because they won’t acknowledge it and they probably won’t be listening to this show, and even if they are they’ll feel like we’re not talking about them, have to realize that even if you have your issues, it’s critical that your children not be used by you and it’s critical that you don’t allow that to play itself out in the home environment.

Okay, we go to David on the line.

Caller: I wanted to relate a personal experience I had and it involves your program. I was listening to your show around Yom Kippur, and you were talking about what it takes to bring about reconciliation and forgiveness. You were talking about how if the person wants to reconcile with someone else, they must make three attempts. The point that I went away with was that you emphasized that you must make more than one attempt; it’s not enough to make just one try and then if the other person spurns you to just give up and say, “Well, I tried and now it’s up to him.”

What happened was, after I heard your show I adopted that point of view with my own brother—we weren’t speaking at the time—and I said I’m going to make a few repeated attempts, I’m not just going to try once and then if he spurns me I’m going to give up. So I made a number of attempts over a period of months. It was very difficult at first because he did ignore me, and it hurt me a great deal, but somehow, I think it was from listening to your program, I felt like I needed to keep trying, and I did. I have to tell you that in February, many months later, there’s been progress. He has come around and I feel wonderful. He and I are on much better terms than I ever dreamed we could be.

I don’t know if this will work for everybody, but I just wanted to say that it worked for me: not giving up after one attempt, which I think many people do, which I myself did for a long time. You have to keep trying.

Jacobson: David, that’s a great demonstration of humility and fortitude on your part to swallow your pride and be able to do that. By the way, is your brother older or younger than you?

Caller: He’s younger.

Jacobson: Can you describe how you became on non-speaking terms? Does it go back to your young childhood?

Caller: Oh no. It started I think when we were in our twenties or so, when we were grown. But at the time, when things flared up, he alluded to the fact that he had always felt this way but now he was just showing it. So I guess in his mind it did go back longer, although it didn’t erupt until we were adults.

Jacobson: So now it’s on good terms, or it still needs work?

Caller: I would say it still needs work, it’s a work in progress, but it’s much better. We speak to each other now—we didn’t before—we’re gentle with each other, we do things for each other. We’re still not the best of friends in terms of perfect friends, but it’s light years ahead of where we were in September when I was listening to your program that night.

Jacobson: David, that’s very gratifying to hear and I feel humbled to have been part of bringing you and your brother together. It’s just a testimony to the strength that you’ve had and I wish you only blessings, you and your brother, and may your relationship only grow.

Caller: Thank you very much, Rabbi.

Jacobson: Now, if we had calls like that all the time we’d be in great shape. Relationships with siblings can be so difficult. I remember someone coming to me and telling me how difficult her relationship is with her own sister, which goes back to their teenage years. Of course it goes back to the mother’s relationship with both of them, to the point that they both simply gave up and ceased speaking to each other. The younger one is speaking to the older one, but she feels that her older sister simply is unable to hear and listen, and just being engaged in that relationship is just causing her so much grief that she doesn’t want to invest in it any longer.

It was painful to hear. Of course, you do everything possible to encourage someone to continue to attempt, as David just did, to reconcile with a sibling, however, if it’s going to cause you more pain, or more damage, or more grief, and it doesn’t allow you to function, I would definitely say that you have to take care of your own life first.

But if we all knew and appreciated the beauty of what our sibling could give us, that would help motivate us. Because otherwise some of us will just say, “Hey, what’s the point? If I’m being so hurt and so pained, what’s the point of me continuing to make attempts … is it that important for me to have a relationship with a sibling?”

Now it’s interesting, I was doing some research into the impact that brothers and sisters have on one another. In the Kabbalah, there are verses where sometimes a human being is compared to a brother or a sister to G-d, and sometimes compared to a child. When it discusses the brother/sister relationship as opposed to the relationship of spouses, a sibling relationship (whether it’s brother/sister, or sister/sister or brother/brother, and I’m not even getting into the distinctions of whether it’s the first-child syndrome, second-child syndrome, different personality types that are often attributed and what sequence you came which has significance) but overall, the Torah puts it that sibling relationships are like water, meaning it’s like a flowing love (in a healthy environment, of course) that doesn’t have that up and down and the tension that is usually exhibited in a relationship between two strangers; for example, two people who decide to marry each other.

So when brothers and sisters are very tied together (the word “achos” in Hebrew (sister) is from achva: which means a tied knot) the relationship is so consistent that there are no ups and downs; it’s something that you can rely on. Healthy siblings are like an invisible type of subconscious knowledge that you just know that you have a foundation out there.

We have Mildred on the air.

Caller: I’m happy to be speaking to you Rabbi. I want to tell you about our happy home, I’m sorry I can’t tell you about a sad home…

Jacobson: Don’t be sorry, Mildred, please! It’s very good therapy to hear about a happy situation.

Caller: If we were arguing or doing something that my Mama objected to, she would watch to see what was going on, and then she would say, “Okay, it’s finished now. It’s finished. You don’t come to the table and you don’t go to bed until you are happy with each other.”

I had a sister who was a little younger than me and I had a brother who was a few years younger than me, and I’m telling you, we’re grown up now, and unfortunately my sister died last year, but I have such loving feelings for my brother. I’m sorry that my sister’s gone, but I have to tell you that I think very much my mother influenced us because she would not let us have anger or break each other’s toys, or things like that. That was not permitted in our house and we never felt that it was necessary because we loved our mother so much that we felt that we wanted to do whatever she said.

Jacobson: Mildred, that’s extremely warming and you honor the memory of your sister by sharing your experience.

Caller: Thank you for the opportunity for allowing me to do that. I so appreciate that I had a mother who would insist on these things, rather than have her mind elsewhere or in a book. She would see to it that we were the ones who loved each other and continued to love each other.

Jacobson: Mildred, do you have your own children?

Caller: I only wish. I’ve never been married. But I do take care of other people’s children and I teach them the same way that my mother taught me.

Jacobson: Mildred, I thank you for the call and may your words and your experiences warm other listeners and I hope others can have blessings with their own siblings as you have.

And I would like to encourage parents about not projecting insecurity, particularly if you see your own children struggling with each other. Some children need more reinforcement because they’re more insecure than another child for whatever reason—they don’t excel that well in school, they’re not as popular—and it’s critical that a parent compensates for that and makes sure that that child who’s somewhat insecure builds and recognizes a deep security, even if he has siblings who dominate or overshadow him, or just that their personalities are more gregarious, because that insecurity becomes a poison that later affects not just that child but generations to come.

We have Louie on the air.

Caller: Hello Rabbi. I appreciate you being on the radio tonight. I have a problem since I was a little kid. I came from an abusive family and my sister kind of took care of me when we were growing up. My father passed away and over a period of time my sister and I have not spoken and I just don’t know how to go about being able to talk to her. She was a big influence as far as me growing up, but then we kind of fell apart when I got married. She still felt that she was my mother and it caused a lot of problems between my wife and me. I have not spoken to my sister in over two years and I just don’t know how I can go about talking to her, or I don’t even know if I want to. There’s a lot of anger and I think a lot of that anger is from when I was a little kid, from growing up in that type of environment, and I just have a hard time knowing what to say to my sister.

Jacobson: Did you say she’s older or you’re older?

Caller: She is older. She’s ten years older than I am.

Jacobson: Have you ever tried suggesting to her to perhaps go speak to a third party?

Caller: Well, she’s very thick-headed like I am, and we just can never see eye to eye on anything. It’s a hole that’s been left in my heart and I just don’t know what to do about it.

Jacobson: Are you the only two or do you have more siblings?

Caller: No, I have two other siblings, but again, we are not a very close family. My father passed away and my mother is still living, and I guess the way we were brought up, and our feelings towards each other were just not close. The way we deal with things is not to talk to each other.

Jacobson: So your sister is the oldest?

Caller: Yes, my sister is the oldest. I’m the youngest.

Jacobson: Well, the fact that you’re making this call is a sign of hope, because it means you are interested in trying to do something. Look, you can’t force other people to do anything. However, I don’t know the entire dynamic… growing up in an abusive or dysfunctional home definitely is a big contributing factor to your own separation from one another, yet I would try to encourage you in any way possible to ally yourself with any of the siblings that you’re a little closer to…or let’s put it this way, with whom the animosity is not that intense, and maybe two of you (two is stronger than one) can then suggest, “Listen, we’d like to invite everyone together to sit down. Maybe we can just yell it out.” If you’re all thick-headed, thick-headed people can communicate as well, sometimes, and it may be worth the effort. You really have nothing to lose.

Perhaps on the next holiday or next opportunity, someone’s birthday, you can just call one of your siblings, someone who you’re maybe not close to but better off than the others and suggest calling the other two to get together in a neutral environment. Just remember, deep down, beneath the abuse, and beneath the unhealthy pathology, lie rivers, flowing rivers that connect you all, the same blood. It’s sad to know that you have that in your life but you can’t access it.

Everyone has his or her own childishness, and sometimes these animosities grow and pride doesn’t allow anyone to acknowledge it. But if you are able to make a call like this you can say, “Look, I’ll be the first to acknowledge that I’m thick headed, and I want to change this. We’re here for each other and ultimately we may not have a great relationship, but at least we can open up the channels of communication.”

I said I would offer, if any of your siblings would like to sit down and speak with me and yourself, that I’d be happy to do that. You have nothing to lose and pride should not be a factor here; these are your brothers and sisters, people whom at one time you had an excellent relationship with.

When you were two years old, I doubt that your sister had any animosity toward you at that point. So there are those memories. And to try to recreate or remember and recollect and reminisce what was once can only provide healthy nourishment.

Louie, let me know what happens. Thank you for the call.

I’d like to take a little break here to remind people about my Wednesday night class, at 8pm every Wednesday, which takes place at 346 W. 89th St., corner of Riverside drive. All are welcome, men and women, of all backgrounds, no matter what level of education you consider yourself to be. It’s a very eclectic group, a very non-judgmental environment, and it’s part of many of the programs and classes that we offer at the Meaningful Life Center which I have the privilege to head.

We have Evon on the line.

Caller: Hi Rabbi. I just want you to know that I was turning to the AM station to find out the weather and I found you. So I’ve been led by the spirit to call you and what I’m calling about is, I’m the eldest of three children. I have a sister who’s 7-1/2 years younger than I am and to make this short, she ran into some trouble in her life and I took her last two children to raise them for her until she was able to get them back.

During that time we had a reconciliation where she informed me that she had hated me all of her life. I never knew why, I was like the mother figure. My mother, as you stated, had a lot of insecurities; however, since that time, my sister has gotten her two children back, whom I’m very close with, we had been very close. But now at this juncture, it started back in about May, she has been seeing a guy (the kids’ father died since they were in foster care with me).

Within a matter of a couple of months, she’s introduced them to this guy and now she’s got them calling him Daddy. Besides that, she relies on what he says in terms of what she does with the kids. The kids have not been around their family other than their other brothers and sisters, but their grandmother who just had a serious operation and home from the hospital. They have not seen me since the summer or my daughter, who helped raise them while my sister could not. And it’s just tearing the family apart. With me, as the gentleman before had said about trying more than once, I went to my sister, even in church, and I said, “Can I speak to you?” And her attitude is always, “I don’t have time. My agenda doesn’t hold it.”

And so, at this point in time, I don’t know what to do. I try not to be too upset about it, because I notice it was starting to affect me emotionally and physically. I don’t know what to do.

Jacobson: The children are under her care right now?

Caller: The children are under her care, and one of the things that I need to stipulate, and my sister and I had spoken about it, I said, “While you’re going to see a psychiatrist, you need to bring up this factor of why is it so necessary for you to have a male in your life.” It’s not as if she was not raised without a father. Her father was married to her mother. My father was a very good father. We went to parochial school. We had the best things in life. I don’t know. My sister has four other older children and all of them are having emotional problems because my sister has always had to have some male in her life and they always come before her children. In this instance, now, this person, who basically dropped in from nowhere, she’s got these kids taking him as their father and based on what he says, they can come and see the family or not, or be with us. That’s what she does.

Jacobson: Does she appreciate at all that you helped her with taking care of her children while she was going through her crisis?

Caller: You know, before the kids came home, Rabbi, which was in August of 1998, she had been. My sister has helped me out in some crunches because during the time that I had my sister’s kids, they got taken away from me illegally which they should not have. In fighting to get them back, I lost my apartment on Riverside that I’d had for 23-1/2   years. I’m now living in an SRO and my sister had helped me a couple of times since I’ve been in this position here. Also because I’m not working.

But it’s almost like a Svengali thing with her. And not just with this guy here. But it’s a pattern.

Jacobson: So let me say this. I share your exasperation. However, as a sister, you can only do that much. It’s very gracious of you that you took care of her children while she was going through her crisis, however, the problem is, you and I can discuss solutions, but it doesn’t necessarily apply to your sister because she is not on the air right now and is not necessarily going to listen to what I’m going to tell you.

If you can’t get through to your sister, it’s critical that you find someone who perhaps can. If children are being hurt…. My concern is that she may react to you negatively and she may not act that same way to a neutral party because she may see you as the older sister who’s always been controlling her. So even if you have her good interests in mind and you really care for her, in a way you can be her worst enemy because she’s just seeing you as a controlling sister and she doesn’t even care what you say.

I know this from my own experience that sometimes when I want to communicate things with my brothers and sisters I often have to find someone else to do it because sometimes, coming from me, it’s not neutral. People see their siblings differently.

So I would recommend finding someone who can speak to your sister and get through to her. Now, ultimately, it’s her life and it’s her problem, and if you see real negligence around her children there must be someone who perhaps can intervene.

Caller: Well, what I did, Rabbi, just as the courts were getting ready to let go of her and the children totally in September, I went down to the agency that had the kids under their authority and I explained the situation to the supervisor down there whom my sister and I had had dealings with and I knew very well and she was very objective about the situation here. However, the absolute release got held up for a minute in court again. I didn’t want the kids taken away from her again, but I felt that continued supervision of her and the kids, and as far as bringing in a third person, I  thought of that about speaking to my pastor and having my sister come there. But the thing is, she manipulates when she talks to others.

Jacobson: I understand. But ultimately, you can only do what you do. Do you have your own children, Evon?

Caller: I have a daughter who’s 37. My daughter helped me with these kids. And my sister said to her the other day when my daughter asked her if the kids could visit, she said, “I don’t know.” And then she told her no. And my daughter said, “Well how can they go over to this other person’s house, this fellow, and spend the night and he’s only got a studio, and my sister has a girl child… And she said to my daughter, “Well, you’re not important, he is.”

Jacobson: Evon, I appreciate your call and it’s an interesting manifestation of a sibling issue where an older sister is dealing with her younger sister’s assumed negligence of some of the children. It’s important that she should not see you as a controlling force because then it could just cause more damage. The important thing is to find that right third party. But your concern is very admirable and I think the fact that you helped your sister is important, and I hope your sister appreciates that. If there’s some way I can be of help to speak to your sister, I’d be happy to try to help. I thank you for the call.

You know, often when we need help, we often go far to find it. I know sometimes when I need to get something done in my office, I often consult with someone and then I realize that I have someone in the office who’s professional and so close by and I just don’t access them.

Your own family, your own siblings, are often the best resource in your life. But they’re so close and you get so accustomed to them, it’s like anything—when you get close you don’t see the forest, you only see the trees. It’s critical in a life like ours, in this cruel world we live in, you should do whatever’s possible to access that resource which is called your sibling: your brother, your sister, which is your blood.

Tonight’s show, Toward a Meaningful Life, is one of many programs where we try to present a meaningful approach to life, an approach that can help us all live more fulfilling lives. That’s why I like to address topics that are so relevant to us, that touch home, topics that others perhaps don’t talk about enough.

This show is brought to you by listeners like yourself, and we invite your support in any way possible—financial or otherwise. You can call us at 1-800-363-2646, 1-800-3MEANING and I look forward to speaking to you on the air or at my Wednesday Night Class. Have a great evening.


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