Your Shul at the Jersey Shore

Shabbat Parshat Ki Tetzeh 5778

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It is What God Wants

Adapted from Rabbi Braun’s sermon in 5772

This past Monday I went to Queens to pay a shiva visit to an old friend who had just lost her mother. At one point while I was there she did something which she perceived to be a violation of the laws of shiva and then turned to everyone in the room and said – it is ok, that is what my mother would have wanted me to do.

I am not so sure that she was actually in violation of the halacha and the particulars don’t interest me as much as the attitude does. There is a justification for violating the halacha because we perceive it as something that is good or something that person “x” would have wanted. It is not the first time that I have heard the sentiment uttered and I am sure that it won’t be the last, but that does not mean that it is right. With that introduction I turn to an interesting 3 verse section of this morning’s parsha. (ch. 21)

15. If a man has two wives, one beloved, and another hated, and they have born him children, both the beloved and the hated; and if the firstborn son is hers who was hated;

  1. Then it shall be, when he makes his sons inherit that which he has, that he may not make the son of the beloved firstborn before the son of the hated, who is indeed the firstborn;
  2. But he shall acknowledge the son of the hated for the firstborn, by giving him a double portion of all that he has; for he is the beginning of his strength; the right of the firstborn is his.

From here we learn two things. First we learn that the firstborn male receive a double portion in the inheritance of his father. Secondly, we are told that a father cannot decide who gets what based on whom he likes better, he must give the oldest according to this law of birthright. I want to ask two questions:

  • Why doesn’t the Torah simply tell us the law, a firstborn gets double? Why do we need the case of the two wives etc? In other words, once you know the law, why would you think that you can skirt it or violate simply because you like one better?
  • What is this doing here? How is it connected to what comes before, the captive wife, and what comes after, the rebellious son?

It is the latter question that is dealt with by the commentators and that is one that I think holds the key to answering both questions.

The Eben Ezra and the Chizkuni both argue that the connection between the captive wife and our section with the inheritance of children from different wives are connected based the on common theme of like/dislike of women.

In the captive wife the soldier has to decide if he desires her or not and in our case there is one wife you desire and one that you don’t. In the first case it is the same woman and in our case it is two but in each case that idea is present.

In addition to that inherent difficulty this is what I would call a technical connection, and not an intrinsic one. There is simply a similarity in the cases that link them.

Trying to explain the connection of our case to the rebellious son that comes after it, the Chizkuni offers the following:

The juxtaposition comes to teach us that you must kill the rebellious son and not make him the bechor.

That too is difficult. Firstly because it is relatively obvious.

Secondly, what emerges according to the Chizkuni, is a reading where a is connected to b and b is connected to c but there is nothing that links or groups a, b and c together. When you look at the text and see 3 parshiot to open the parsha that open with the same word, כי  כי תצא, כי תהיין, כי יהיה  it seems to link them together. That is what motivates the Midrash that is quoted by some of the mefarshim. This Midrash argues that not only are the 3 linked but they are a chain reaction of sorts.

It all starts with taking the captive wife. That creates a less than desirable situation in the house where there is competition between the wives and one becomes beloved and one not. That situation is not an ideal one in which to raise children and that union with the captive wife that led to strife will also produce a child who will become rebellious.

I have a suggestion to add to the mix that also ties all three together. I would argue that the 2 and possibly 3 paragraphs that follow the captive wife are actually an attempt to limit the justification used in that case to only that case and not allow it to be extended further.

Taking a captive gentile wife in war is understood by nearly everyone as a concession to the evil inclination. A soldier at a time of war is out of his regular environment and in an atmosphere of heightened emotions and energy and simply can’t control himself. Thus the Torah in recognition of this makes a concession.

But lest you think that this is a model that you can build on, that at times your desires and wishes can trump a Torah violation the Torah gives us the following cases where you might be tempted to follow your heart but are instructed not to.

You have two wives and they each have kids. You would very much like to give the beloved wife’s children more but YOU may NOT because the halacha is that the first born gets double. A concession is not made.

Then we move onto the next case, the rebellious child. Your child is a glutton and destined for certain disaster and the child must be put to death. Your heart tells you not to do this; this is after all your child. Your wishes and desires are to ignore the Torah but that is not an option.

Yes the Torah made the exception once but it was only once and cannot be extended even in the case of the rebellious son.

The general rule of thumb is that a Jew is obligated to follow the rules of the Torah no matter what the personal cost or sentiment.

And when one exception is made the Torah makes it clear immediately that this is a one-time exception and that is it. And thus the torah gives us 2 examples where we must follow the law despite our feelings to the contrary to hammer home that point.

I think that this is an important message for our community in general and in particular as we approach RH and YK.

Particularly in the MO communities where we place real value on what we believe are positive developments in the world at large, and at some level those developments help shape our outlook on the world, there is always the danger that it becomes about what we want and not what God wants. What do you do when a particular halacha seems to be at odds with what we feel should be?

We need to remind ourselves that at the end of the day it is ultimately about what God wants.