Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Unknowingly Continued Down The Chain

(Picture courtesy of timyoung.net)

Ever since I was young, I noticed that there was a certain unifying trait among relatives, both male and female, who were direct descendants from my great great-grandfather Yitzchok. This common trait was an uncanny propensity only to speak positively about other people and never speak negatively.

This is not to say that they were naive and were glossing over the hard reality of certain sometimes very difficult and trying times. They were keenly aware of what had happened yet chose not to dwell on the negative.

In the last days of her life, one of my great-aunts was informed of a horrible allegation about one of her sons. Despite the fact that this allegation was still uncorroborated, her other sons refused to speak to him. Yet, when I spoke to my great-aunt on the phone she never breathed a word of this to me during her lifetime. She would start off every phone conversation by telling me how wonderful each and every one of her children and grandchildren were. She spoke in such glowing terms that it is a wonder that Osama bin Laden never attempted to hire her as his press spokesperson. Interestingly, her characterizations of people often stood in stark contrast to those from another great aunt who had married into the family and would relate certain less than positive details when I asked her for genealogical information about our family.

My father is another perfect example of someone who never speaks negatively about others. Recently it came to light that his close friend of more 30 years had been living a secretive life. My father spoke with this person on a daily basis and had absolutely no clue that his friend was being less than honest with him. When this person finally cut ties with his wife, children, and his employer to go pursue his new life in another city my father was flabbergasted. Yet, when I spoke to my mother about it she said that my father never once bad mouthed his friend; only allowing himself to say that the situation was "unfortunate".

These two examples are perhaps extreme examples of this trait, yet a trait can only be proven to be solidly embedded if it holds up in extreme circumstances. Nevertheless, I can provide numerous other examples of where Yitzchok's descendants focused only on the good when others characterized them negatively.

I have often wondered why so many people in my family were so similar in this regard. Then it came to me instantly one morning two days after meeting the Sudilkover Rebbe. Yitzchok's descendants can trace their lineage back to the same shtetl as the Degel Machaneh Ephraim. And, as the Sudilkover Rebbe told me, the path of the Degel Machaneh Ephraim is to stay far away way from machlokes and to always concern oneself with promoting the ways of shalom in the world.

Somehow the Degel's teaching was unknowingly passed down to Yitzchok's descendants without them ever even having opened up his sefer.


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