Family Feud

After leaving Har Sinai and journeying in the desert, the Jewish people experience a number of struggles. One phrase in particular is somewhat strange: “Moses heard the people weeping to their families” (11:10). While this description is in reference to the complaint of wanting meat (not just manna), what do families have to do with it? Because of this peculiarity, the Gemara (Yoma 75) provides an added level of interpretation; that they were upset about prohibited familial relationships. It wasn’t that they cried to their families, but that they cried about their families. 

 

The obvious question, however, is what exactly they’re upset about- that they can’t marry their family members? Is that something they wanted to do? There are different approaches, but one in particular sheds light not only on this situation, but human nature in general. Rav Chanoch Zundel explains in his Anaf Yosef that the Jewish people had a simple calculation: The closer connection two spouses have to each other, the more consistent their offspring’s personalities will be. It would be easier to manage a marriage, a family, and a home if everyone is the same. To this, Hashem replies that He doesn’t want us to stay within our comfort zone. He prefers that we engage with others that are different, those who can complete us. The notion that “opposites attract” is no coincidence. G-d embedded that attraction into the world.

 

That’s not to say that it’s easy or that it always works, but it is to say that it can help us grow. On the one hand, people that are different from us supplement our lives with aspects we can’t fulfill or don’t want to fulfill ourselves. Perhaps more importantly, however, difference forces us to find room in our hearts for others. It compels us to embrace humility, gratitude, and openness. Promoting a sense of difference means building bridges and cultivating friendships- not with people that are like us or that we can force to be like us- but with people who can remain different and still become partners. Bonding with others who are just like ourselves simply implies that we like ourselves. Even the most mundane types of connection teach us this: like the opposite charges of a magnet, the different sides of a piece Velcro, or the mismatched pieces of a puzzle. In this way, perhaps we can appreciate that disagreements and differences are not cause for concern, but can, in fact, become the bedrock of true relationships.