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The God Squad: When a 'blah-blah' relationship is best

March 21, 2014|By Rabbi Marc Gellman

Q: I grew up with five siblings, but after Dad died, our weak relationships went from bad to worse. To this day, two of my siblings and I get along fine. We've admitted to the pain we caused each other and asked for forgiveness. My relationships with the other three are not fine.

I've tried asking them what I did to cause them pain, and though their answers are vague, I figure if they're hurting, I need to ask for forgiveness. Each time, they say they want nothing more to do with me. I feel I am supposed to ask for forgiveness seven times 70, but their cruel lies about me make me keep my distance from them.

I realize these three may not believe that they've hurt me and that what they've done or said is perfectly fine, so they feel no need to apologize. But I am hurt and I don't know what to do. How do I move on? — D., via the Internet

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A: Many of the questions I receive are repeats. I'm often asked: Who is in hell? (Answer: Only the real evildoers and those who cut into line); Why don't I believe Jesus is God? (Answer: Because Jesus was Jewish, and if it was good enough for Jesus, it's good enough for me); Why is religion the source of conflict in the world? (Answer: Mostly it isn't, but religion gets bad press, mostly from people who got kicked out of religious school as kids). However, your question about forgiveness in the family is my favorite.

The reason forgiveness is such a big topic in Judaism and Christianity is that it's so hard and yet so human. It's hard to ask for forgiveness because it's hard to admit moral failure, and it's hard to forgive because it's hard to let go of the feeling that we're victims rather than victimizers.

What can you do now? My suggestion is that you try to create what I call a "blah-blah relationship" with these siblings. In my experience, there are three kinds of relationships we can have with people. We can love them, we can hate them or we can blah-blah them.

We can hate people who've brutally crushed our lives and our hopes, but this is rare and dangerous. Hatred is a poison we take, expecting others to die. Some people do find a way to forgive even those who've hurt them grievously. Mark Twain wrote, "Forgiveness is the fragrance the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it."

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