Why were so many of Israel’s ancient enemies distant relatives? Ishmael was Isaac’s half brother, yet his descendants would harass the Israelites time and again. Midian was another half brother through Abraham’s final wife Keturah and they would attack us and try to curse us as we left Egypt. Jacob’s brother Esau would go on to found the Edomite nation which would be friend and foe at different times. Abraham’s nephew Lot sired two sons Moav and Ammon that would also trouble us throughout our history.
Such tzuris from one family? But then families always have a special power to hurt because their antagonism is more than greed or hostility, it is a betrayal. When a stranger leaps out of an alley and steals your wallet it is terrible and frightening. When a brother leaps out and does the same, the anger and resentment will last much longer than the financial hurt. We should have a special set of rules for treating our family better than strangers to avoid such hurt, yet too often we treat them worse than others.
Moreover, if we flip back in the Torah to the beginning, the generation that flowed out across the world after the flood, who established new nations and people, it is apparent that the Torah wants us to consider all of them as distant relatives. Which means that any conflict, whether with stranger or family, between once allied nations or those eternally hostile, is always between relatives.
Parashat Chayei Sarah leads us through the trouble families come to, as well as the national rivalries our ancestors faced. With a little attention to detail we can hopefully learn that the Torah wants us to avoid their mistakes instead of perpetuating them.