Question: Every Shabbos Nachamu, my entire neighborhood leaves to the Catskill Mountains. They go to family or friends who have bungalows or summer homes there. It’s very hard for me to stay home with my family when I know that my sister-in-law has a large summer home that has plenty of room for all of us but can’t be bothered to invite us. In general I feel that she disdains our family for not being of her social (rich) caliber and makes no effort to make us part of her lavish lifestyle. My husband’s brother is a successful businessman but my husband has not enjoyed the same success in his work, although b’h we have what we need. How can I overcome my resentment at her behavior?
Answer: You know that life is not fair, right? Not right, actually. Life is exactly how it should be, and we each get the stuff we are meant to get. But you didn’t write this question to get a mussar schmooze, so let’s skip that part. And let’s get straight to the part—and point--that because your sister-in-law has a summer home, you get to feel resentful that she is not sharing it with you. So, according to that calculation that we need to share whatever we have to even things out, would that mean if she has a coupla kids more than you do, you feel entitled to even the score and adopt some of hers? And along those lines, if you made six roasts for yom tov and she only made two, does she get to pick up an extra two from you so everyone has the same amount? And is she entitled to be resentful if you don’t want to give up your hard earned roasts?
I’m not quite sure what you are resentful about. I’m not quite sure what behavior you are condemning, other than not inviting you to her home because you decided you would like to be in the mountains for Shabbos.
Let’s look at this situation closely.
It’s true that many people today have family or friends in the mountains and enjoy a weekend or two as guests of those family members. But I doubt your entire neighborhood disappears Shabbos Nachamu in the same way I doubt you accept your child’s sweeping statement that “all the guys in my class have electric scooters.” Some, definitely. All? Doubtful.
So what’s happening here? Plain, old fashioned jealousy and imfarginen. Not traits you would be proud to see surfacing in your children as they grow up. But it will if it is modeled enough times. Like every year Shabbos Nachamu when they hear their mother’s mutterings about their selfish, rich aunt.
I would be curious to know if your statement about your sister-in-law being disdainful of you has less to do with her wealth and more to do with your attitude towards her wealth. There was a fascinating New York Times article years ago that notes the sociological phenomenon that exists only in Orthodox Jewish culture. Only in our communities do rich and poor mingle socially without regard to wealth but rather based on religiosity. It appears to be the only community that divides itself across religious lines versus financial ones. In which families of different socioeconomic classes live on street, go to one school, pray at one synagogue, and enjoy equal status as long as they belong to the same religious stratosphere.
That being true, of course it is difficult to be poor, to lack necessities, not to be able to give children clothing, food, school supplies, a camp experience, a trip to Europe, a year in seminary, a car, a house, and a credit card. But that’s life, Darling. That’s life. And that’s the challenge of a parent to work that through so the attitude of life-must-be-fair-according-to-my-understanding is setting yourself up for ongoing grief, and creating another generation of imfarginers.
But let’s address your question realistically. How can you overcome your resentment of your sister-in-law’s behavior?
Can you ask yourself a few questions? Questions as simple as, “Why doesn’t my sister-in-law invite us?” Or, “Why do I feel resentful at not being invited?” I know the questions that follow that are question like, “Doesn’t she know how desperately we would love to spend a Shabbos upstate? She has a full time maid so what does she care if we spend a Shabbos in her home? Why is she so selfish?” But I am asking you to stick to those two simple questions.
Can the answer to the first be also as simple as, “Because Shabbos is when she and her husband spend quality time with their children?” or, “There’s some tough stuff going on in her life I may not know about and she is not up to hosting—ever?” Or, “My kids really don’t behave in other people’s homes.”
It’s an interesting thing, but despite your assessment of your sister-in-law as rich, 40 percent of Americans don’t feel rich. Unless they reach the 7.5 million mark! You don’t know what their finances really are and maybe the burden both physically and financially is beyond her capabilities.
If she is inviting others and not you, then you may want to rethink your relationship with her altogether. It would make sense, would it not, that she would not choose to spend a Shabbos with someone (like you) who does not like her for slights real or imagined.
If you have a good relationship with her, and want to spend time with her specifically, then open communication may be key here. Tell her how you feel and ask her if you can come. Ask her how you can help to make Shabbos easier for her. You may even want to suggest organizing a trip with her after the summer and make the plans for some sort of staycation with your home as the base (if you live in a different area than she does), to show her that you are a giver and not only a taker.
If you don’t have a good relationship with her, why on earth would you feel entitled to a Shabbos at her home in which you admit you are simply using her?
And if you would like to improve the relationship, it doesn’t need to start by her inviting you for Shabbos. It may be a year-long project that will culminate in an invitation for next year’s Shabbos Nachamu.
And if it may be, as you indicate, that your sister-in-law is simply not a nice person. If so, why expose your children to that kind of environment and personality? We make many sacrifices for our children’s chinuch; this may be just one more.
Can you create a special Shabbos Nachamu for you and your family with a happiness and acceptance that begins from within? Let the nature you yearn to enjoy be your own.
Originally published in Binah Magazine's monthly column: Questions you never dared to ask but want to know anyway
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