Sometimes it is better not to know. Mrs. iWe and I, who in our youth were perpetually curious, have learned through experience that when someone tells us we are better off not knowing something, we should not ask again. Indeed, we ask, “How is that a helpful thing to say?” whenever one of us or our children opts to share a juicy bit of gossip, or crank up bulldozers in the vicinity of sleeping dogs.
With non-family-members, reproof is usually not appropriate; so we get very quiet in those situations. Sometimes they even take the hint.
But around family, this is particularly sticky. What happens when someone wants to air old grudges, or ask about something they really do not need to know?
There is a Torah precedent for this: Jacob’s sons dispose of their annoying brother, and lie to their father by producing the famous coat, covered in blood. But many years later, Joseph turns up. He gets square with his brothers, but all Jacob learns is that Joseph is alive.
The Torah fairly bristles with the unasked — and unanswered — questions. What happened to Joseph all those years ago? Jacob never asks. The brothers never tell their father, and Joseph does not utter a word. And if we think about it, the reason is simple enough: no answer can be helpful. All it can do is open old wounds, and perhaps carve a few new ones.
In every family, I think this is a potential minefield. There are those who always want to relitigate the past. They live with anger and grudges, issues that cannot be resolved even if others try to make amends. We cannot undo the past, after all. But they continue to insist on bringing it up, time and again – regardless of whether or not it helps to do so.
I know the Torah teaches us that when it is not productive, to let it go. But how do you make it happen in practice?