Am I My Brother’s Keeper?
My “kid” brother is forty-seven and I’m fifty. From childhood through today, we’ve never had a fight. Seriously. Not one. I do not recall any biting, hitting, kicking, or screaming between us. I’ve even asked him if I somehow developed selective amnesia in this regard, but he confirms my recollections. I’ve often wondered through the years why we get along so well. After all, it’s just not normal.
If you were to read Genesis – Bereshit – in the bible, you’d note that many stories in the book tell of sibling rivalries; from Cain and Abel to Jacob and Esau to Rachel and Leah to Joseph and his brothers. The Torah does not offer specific guidelines in these relationships. Rabbi David Greenstein comfortingly offers that the “tendency toward sibling rivalry is inherent in the process of growth and individuation that we must undergo to mature.” He further observes that “the salient thread running through the Genesis narratives is [the siblings] inability to dwell together.” It is only when we meet Moses, along with Aaron and Miriam that we see brothers and a sister united in a common cause, a common effort, and a common goal. With them we learn that “[o]nly through the cooperation of these siblings can Israel be redeemed.”
So what can be said of us? Do we get along because we live far away from each other? Were we rivals at some point in time, but matured and got over it? Nope. I think we were just lucky enough to “click” on a common level…
My brother was a lawyer who, after practicing for a number of years, decided to become a rabbi. To be fair, he didn’t just wake up and say, “Hmmm…I think I want to be a rabbi.” Quite to the contrary. While the flicker of the notion of being a rabbi may have sparked at the age of thirteen, during preparations for his Bar Mitzvah, the actual fire didn’t ignite until he was almost thirty years old. But, by then, he had the input of a wife, two children, and a Jewish mother to consider (a mother who felt that being a rabbi was NOT a good job for a Jewish boy!) as he contemplated making this life-changing decision.
Through his deliberations, I was on hand to give little pushes of encouragement, stood by staunchly supportive, and was passionately defensive of his choices. In my heart, I simply knew that this was the path he was to follow. I firmly believe that “the protective instinct that a sibling can have for a brother or sister can become a force for great good in both their lives.” While I’ve always been proud of my brother, I’m especially so since he became a rabbi. The way he lives, the things he does, and the examples he sets enrich my life and make me want to be and do better.
If I ever had any complaint, it’s that I don’t get enough of my brother’s undivided attention. One-on-one quality time on a regular basis with him is a virtual impossibility. His various rabbinic roles – as pastor, educator, counselor, sermonizer, spiritual guide, etc. – cause him to be in high demand by a congregation and a community. And, of course, his immediate family time must also take precedence over time with me. But all that changed last week.
My brother is finally on a six-month sabbatical. He’s using this time to rejuvenate his mind, body, and spirit. He also is making time to visit family and hang out with friends. Last week, he seized an opportunity to come to Atlanta for the Rabbinical Assembly convention as a way to spend a week with me. For the first time in years – in an uninterrupted way – we were able to talk, hang out, reminisce, philosophize, and dream. Sharing our respect for each other and cherishing our time together was a real gift. I believe our relationship catapulted to an entirely new level.
I love knowing that, in our separate ways, we are on a path together. And, no matter what comes between us on a daily basis, I’m still here keeping an eye on my kid brother…and he knows it.
 David M. Greenstein, “Between Siblings,” The Observant Life, ed. Martin S. Cohen and Michael Katz (New York, NY: The Rabbinical Assembly, 2012) page 694.
 Ibid., p. 695.