By David J. Seidemann, Esq.
There were Kayin and Hevel, followed by Yitzchak and Yishmael, and then of course Yaakov and Eisav. Sibling rivalry is nothing new. Yosef had issues with his brothers, though it seems all was well when that ended. Ephraim and Menashe seemed to navigate their relationship well despite the fact that Ephraim was younger yet was designated by Yaakov to outshine Menashe. And there is no recorded fighting between Moshe and Aharon even though, once again, the younger brother rose to greater heights.
When each person understands his particular role in the family, in the business, in the community, in society, finishing first or second does not seem as important.
So I watched with particular interest last week one of the greatest Super Bowl games in recent memory, which pitted brother versus brother. The coaches of the teams, John Harbaugh of the victorious Baltimore Ravens, and his younger brother, Jim Harbaugh of the San Francisco 49ers, matched wits and schemes, “X’s and O’s,” in front of not only tens of millions of fans around the world, but also in front of their parents, Jack and Jackie Harbaugh, and sister, Joani.
The brothers embraced before the game and embraced once again after the thrilling conclusion, though during the contest they competed with all the vigor they could muster. I wondered how their parents managed their emotions during the game itself when whatever good happened for one son meant just the opposite for their other son.
Now, I come from a large family. I have seven brothers and sisters, and growing up, while we did squabble about the usual kid things (it’s your turn to clear the table), I don’t remember much if any jealousy. Our roles were pretty well-defined and continue till today. There is my younger brother, the rabbi, who indeed is the scholar of the family. While I admire his knowledge and indeed wish I possessed a fraction of what he knows, I revel in his success. I am so proud when I meet people who tell me that they met him, spent a Shabbos in his shul, and were so impressed with him.
There is the real-estate manager, the brother who is a lawyer in Washington, the speech therapist, the psychologist, the housewife, the accountant (did I leave anyone out?)
Each one with his or her own particular talent and spin on family events; each one, I sense, comfortable in their own skin and recognizing that they are who they are and not their brother or sister. I can only figure that the reality is what it is because my parents were clear in raising us that we should each follow our own dreams as long as it would not create a nightmare for someone else. And as important as self-confidence is, I believe they also imparted to us that in living one’s life, one should always be careful to reach within one’s own realistic grasp.
Therefore, when our large family does get together, the roles are pretty much defined. We can predict with extreme accuracy how each sibling will react to a given situation, always mindful of our potential and our limitations so that we can plan accordingly. It is the belief in potential that allows a man to dream. It is cognizance of limitations that allows a man to rely on his brother for help without feeling defeated or lacking.
I met such a young man recently, a young man who lives every day with his dream and his reality. He is 24 years old and learns in yeshiva approximately eight hours a day. No great feat, you say, until you realize that five years ago he could not read a word of Hebrew—or English, or any other language for that matter.
He is autistic and lives with that reality. He knows his limitations. But at age 19 he discovered he was Jewish and decided that if he was going to learn how to read English for the first time, he might as well learn how to read Hebrew as well. And that’s exactly what he did. And he learns Bible, and Talmud, and Jewish law in Hebrew and in English.
I spent almost an hour with him, in the waning minutes of Shabbos, and he told me of his dream to become a Hebrew teacher or tutor. For whom? For other autistic children. “I can inspire them; I can tell them and show them that it can be done.” He knows he’ll never be the Chief Rabbi of Israel, he told me, “but I don’t want to be the chief. I just want to be a plain, autistic Jew,” he said, “teaching Torah to other autistic Jews.”
“Dating is very difficult for me,” he remarked. “I’m not allowed to cross streets, so I can’t fly to another city to date. Here where I live, there are not many girls who would date a guy like me, and when I do go out on a date, either a friend has to drive me or Access-a-Ride takes my date and me. It’s not that private or romantic, but I don’t have a choice.”
He concluded by telling me that “if G‑d made me, then G‑d has to take care of me.”
I don’t become speechless often, but that moment my mind and mouth were frozen. I realized that this young man’s limitations are indeed the dream that will set him free. He believes so deeply his own words that “if G‑d made me then G‑d has to take care of me.” He knows his place, and I suspect he is quite comfortable there. v
David Seidemann is a partner with the law firm of Seidemann and Mermelstein and serves as a professor of business law at Touro College. He can be reached at 718-692-1013 or