Whoever brings ruin on their family will inherit only wind,
and the fool will be servant to the wise. — Proverbs 11:29
Family can be tricky sometimes. In so many ways, family is the greatest blessing in our lives. At the same time, rare, or perhaps non-existent, is the family without their fair share of quarrels. Our families can be the source of our greatest joy. Still, they hold the most potential to inflict our deepest pain. They say that to love is to risk loss, and I would add that to love our families is to risk the hurt that can sometimes come from those we love so dearly. Yet, ultimately, for most, it’s worth the risk. The occasional disagreements or fallouts are nothing compared to the support, love, and lifelong companionship that family has to offer.
However, it does happen that sometimes there is a member of a family who causes more harm than good. We don’t get to choose our family, but for reasons only God knows, sometimes we are given a family member that causes much sorrow. Our job is to love them anyway. As someone once told me, when there is a difficult person in your life, remember it could be worse; you could be them. Even when it’s painful to be on the receiving end of a difficult person’s spitefulness, it’s worse to be the source of the pain.
Proverbs warns us: “Whoever brings ruin on their family will inherit only wind…” It is foolish to think that one can hurt their own family and not hurt themselves in the process. Whether by Divine retribution or by way of natural consequences, when we hurt those closest to us we bring ruin upon ourselves. In the end, we gain nothing, we inherit only empty wind, when we make our family suffer. Some sages explain that the Hebrew word for wind, ruach, also means spirit, and they interpret this phrase to mean that one who brings ruin on their own family will bring a spirit of contention into their homes and into their lives.
When we wrongfully hurt each other, no one gains. I think this teaching is true of our biological families and also of our greater family of mankind. When we bring others down, while we may not realize it, we will suffer as well.
At the same time, the exact opposite principle is true: Whoever does good to their family will bring blessings to his or her own self. Again, I believe this to be true of our biological families as well as our friends, acquaintances, and society. When we bring others up, we raise the level of living for us all.
Let’s remember to do our best to be givers of love, joy, and comfort – for God’s sake and our own.
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President