Funerals are always sad, but do you know when they are truly tragic? When the mourners are too busy fighting among themselves to really pay their respects to the departed.

Unfortunately, it’s all too common. At a time when people should be comforting each other over their shared loss, they instead spend time and energy negotiating who can come to the funeral, where each of them will sit shiva, and rehashing past fights and the quarrels.


Attending synagogue over the High Holidays should be enjoyable and inspirational. For a rabbi, these few weeks are the highlight of the year: a great cantor and the chance to try out your sermons and share ideas with new members. There are kids running everywhere and a bumper crowd of eager congregants spilling out of every aisle.

But do you know when the synagogue experience is transformed from pleasurable to painful? When instead of concentrating on the spirit of goodwill and blessings of this time, you’re forced to play referee between warring congregants.

Would you believe that a Canadian colleague of mine had to physically separate two elderly men who were punching each other over a pew last Yom Kippur? Even though most rabbis don’t have to deal with actual fistfights in their synagogues, we’re all too familiar with the annual negotiations about who’s sitting where and who’s getting which honour.


Every Jew loves every other Jew—in theory. However, when it comes to practice, sometimes we forget how to behave. The strange thing is that everyone has a perfect justification for their dislikes. Some people are too religious, while others are not committed enough. There are people who live in the wrong country or who vote the wrong way. They might have attended the wrong school or have a different skin color.

You can hardly be blamed for your feelings. And anyway, is it really so bad if you don’t get on with a specific segment of the Jewish world, are fighting with a certain sibling, or if there’s one person in synagogue you don’t want to sit next to? No one can get along with everyone. After all, there are so many other Jews you do respect. There are family members you do like, and there’s the rest of the synagogue to hang out with.


It matters.

The Torah tells us, “You shall be whole, with G‑d your L‑rd.”The only way that you can be truly whole is if you are at peace with everyone in your family, community and nation. To be whole in yourself, you’ve got to be whole with others.

The other Jew is not really the other. Every sibling is your entire family. The guy in the next pew is more than part of the furniture, but the heart and soul of the congregation. Every Jew is me. We share a common soul and are imprinted with the same DNA. The relationship between one Jew and another is analogous to separate limbs on a common body. If one organ is missing, the entire body is lacking, and, similarly, medicine injected into one spot can cure the wound in a completely separate location.

Why Bother?

Let’s say you don’t care about perfection. What if you feel you’d be better off with a missing limb? Can you cut your brother loose or cancel your synagogue membership?

The end of the verse we quoted earlier is “with G‑d your L‑rd.” You can’t get close to G‑d if you’re not willing to play nicely with every member of His nation. Just as we each pray to G‑d to accept us, warts and all, no matter what we’ve done wrong or how we’ve let Him down in the past, so too, we must be willing to accept our family and friends and be willing to give them another chance.

Who cares whose fault it is or who started it. The only thing that’s really important is resolving to start again and keep the peace in the future.1

Pick up the phone now, and reach out again. Apologize for the past, and make a commitment for the future. Even if you don’t feel sorry, even if the wounds are still raw, or you’ve already tried and been rebuffed, please try again. A family needs every cog to be present and active to function smoothly, and we all share the responsibility to keep the machinery of love and commitment in operation.

This is true for your nuclear family, and the way you think and act towards your fellow Jews is just as crucial. We are family. Every Jew counts. The loss of one is a tragedy for all. We dare not abandon any Jew, nor can we cut ourselves off from anyone in the community. Above all, if we can commit to perfection and connection in our personal relationships, then we deserve our unique and unbroken relationship with G‑d.