I was at the minyan I’m almost always at on Shabbat, my friend Lorenzo’s minyan, inspired by and under the instruction of the Ostrova-Biala Rebbe. The minyan is in his backyard, and the group of men and women couldn’t be a more elevated group. You know the feeling you get when you walk into a room full of family members that you adore or best friends from school, and all the jokes you had for all those years come rushing back, and you know you are about to be surrounded by love? It may sound cheesy, but it’s the feeling of being in a community that truly feels aligned. And I’ve found it in this minyan, with this group of friends in the life, light, and love that lives in the space that we all create.
After we pray, we move the tables around so that we can drink and eat together, and one by one people start to get up and speak words of Torah, spirituality, and what inspired or moved them the previous week. I was caught off guard and sort of in disbelief when someone got up this past Shabbos and said, “I wanted to share a little something based on Erez’s dvar Torah, and it’s that anger and hatred only harm the person who holds onto them. I had gotten screwed out of a deal at work, and I was literally cursing the person in my head, praying that no blessings would come to them, and then reading Erez’s words around the parashah of how to let go of anger, I realized that the person wouldn’t even know I was cursing him, and it was only hurting me, as I couldn’t sleep because I was just too upset. I knew I had to let it go, take whatever lesson awaited, and be open to the next blessing that is meant for me.”
I started writing these dvar Torahs when my ex-wife’s mother (Yehudis Chava bat Yakov) passed away. It was her one year yahrzeit (parashat Terumah), and I never thought that I would write dvar Torahs weekly, but as I continued and started to hear things like this or receive messages about how it keeps people going and positive throughout their week, I was motivated to keep going. I’m only sharing this because, as I thought of this, I saw the love that could be created by community, sharing positivity and inspiration, starting in your community and pushing outside of that. It’s just so important to push away from being focused on oneself and from existing in negativity, anger, and hatred.
As we covered in last week’s dvar, we need to replace self-help with help for others. Self-interest should never trump interest in helping others. We need to shift our mindset from being competitors to being collaborators in life’s journey. This is done from moving from a place of feeling separation and detachment to tapping into the connectedness of all things, moving away from viewing things in a negative light or, God forbid, with hatred, and moving toward being mindful of Oneness.
Rav Kook teaches: “The more clearly one studies the character of an individual human soul, the more baffled one becomes over the great differences between personalities… It is, however, precisely through this differentiation that they are all united towards one objective– to contribute to the perfection of the world, each person according to his special talent. Surely one must marvel at the higher wisdom wherein, by an inner, mysterious power known only to God, these opposites are integrated and related one to the other, so that through the fusion of all the diverse minds and physiognomies, there emerges a unified structure of consummate harmony.”1
In this parashah we learn not to act from feelings of hatred, even in circumstances involving our children, which often bring out our most primal feelings of protectiveness:
כִּֽי־תִהְיֶ֨יןָ לְאִ֜ישׁ שְׁתֵּ֣י נָשִׁ֗ים הָאַחַ֤ת אֲהוּבָה֙ וְהָאַחַ֣ת שְׂנוּאָ֔ה וְיָֽלְדוּ־ל֣וֹ בָנִ֔ים הָאֲהוּבָ֖ה וְהַשְּׂנוּאָ֑ה וְהָיָ֛ה הַבֵּ֥ן הַבְּכֹ֖ר לַשְּׂנִיאָֽה. וְהָיָ֗ה בְּיוֹם֙ הַנְחִיל֣וֹ אֶת־בָּנָ֔יו אֵ֥ת אֲשֶׁר־ה’ ל֑וֹ לֹ֣א יוּכַ֗ל לְבַכֵּר֙ אֶת־בֶּן־הָ֣אֲהוּבָ֔ה עַל־פְּנֵ֥י בֶן־הַשְּׂנוּאָ֖ה הַבְּכֹֽר. כִּי֩ אֶת־הַבְּכֹ֨ר בֶּן־הַשְּׂנוּאָ֜ה יַכִּ֗יר לָ֤תֶת לוֹ֙ פִּ֣י שְׁנַ֔יִם בְּכֹ֥ל אֲשֶׁר־יִמָּצֵ֖א ל֑וֹ כִּי־הוּא֙ רֵאשִׁ֣ית אֹנ֔וֹ ל֖וֹ מִשְׁפַּ֥ט
If a man has two wives, one loved [ahuva], the other unloved [senua, literally, “hated”], and both the loved and the unloved bear him sons, but the firstborn will be the son of the unloved wife, then when he wills his property to his sons, he must not give the rights of the firstborn to the son of the beloved wife, in preference to the son of the unloved wife. He must recognise [the legal rights of] the firstborn of his unloved wife so as to give him a double share of all he has, for he is the first of his father’s strength. The birthright is legally his.2
There are a few things to dig further into from this verse: the double portion given to the firstborn and the complexities of love, hate, and preferential treatment.
The word senua (hated) appears four times in the Torah, twice above, in connection to the firstborn, and two times in Genesis, in connection to Leah. The phrase “first of his father’s strength” only appears one other time in the Torah and that is in connection to Reuven, Leah’s firstborn, about whom it’s written: “Reuven, you are my firstborn, my might and the first of my strength, first in rank and first in power.”34
Rebbe Nachman of Breslov teaches that the firstborn receives a double portion of the inheritance because the strength of his birth puts strength into all subsequent births. That is, by virtue of his birth, we know that his parents are fertile. R’ Nachman also says that the birthright is comparable to prayer, which is also characterized by a “double portion”– first, praise of God and second, requests for the future.5 Reb Natan adds that just as a firstborn proves the fertility of his parents, prayers prove their own efficacy. The first time(s) that a person prays for something, he does not know if his prayers will bear fruit. Once he sees that his prayers are answered, he will continue to pray to God.6
Chazal (The Sages) in Talmud Kiddushin7 point out that the language of “beloved” means that the marriage was allowed, while “unloved” or “hated” means that the marriage was forbidden by a negative commandment, such as a mamzeret (the offspring of a forbidden union who is subsequently forbidden to marry certain members of the community, e.g. a Kohen). Rabbi Moshe Feinstein points out that “beloved” here means that the wife and the love in the marriage is extraordinary and infers that this verse stresses the importance of parenting and education, particularly that which a mother imparts. In this light, we understand the warning implied in the verse– that even in these two extremes, wherein one wife is hated because of the forbidden marriage and the other is beloved because of the exceptional education she gives their kids, the father is still obligated to give the firstborn son of the hated wife the double portion in his estate as due him.8
The Torah links the prohibition written in this parashah to the man having two wives, one of whom he loves and the other whom he hates. According to Sifri, the Torah is often indirectly teaching us derech eretz (proper behavior) alongside the specific ritual commandments. According to R’ David Zvi Hoffman, the derech eretz that is being taught here is that it is not good for a man to have two wives, even if it is halachically permissible. And so here we see a hint of the takkanah (decree) of Rabbenu Gershom Me’or HaGolah against marrying more than one wife. Ba’alei HaTosafot and Abarbanel, on the other hand, state that what is being stressed here in the Torah is the progression of what will occur if a man takes more than one wife, which would inevitably manifest strife in the household.
It’s interesting that the verse says, “the first born son will be to the hated one,” rather than “if the first born son will be…” Abarbanel points out that Hashem will give the hated wife the first born, as is seen in the case of Leah, “Hashem saw that Leah was hated, and He opened her womb.”9 We learn from this why there is this negative commandment not to give the birthright to the son of the loved wife, but to ensure the birthright portion is given to the firstborn son of the unloved one. The firstborn son was born to the “hated” wife as a punishment to the husband for hating her. So the man is forbidden from perpetuating this hatred and from using his birthright as yet another expression of his preference for the other wife.10
It should be noted, as Sforno points out, that this pasuk is to teach that the firstborn son’s entitlement to an extra share in his father’s inheritance must not be transferred on account of his father loving his mother more or “hating” her, i.e. loving her less than his second wife. However, if the father wants to transfer the extra portion of the inheritance away from the chronologically entitled son due to that son’s misconduct¸ this is appropriate. As we know from Talmud Baba Batra,11 אם לא היה נוהג כשורה זכור לטוב, íf the chronologically oldest did not conduct himself properly, his inheritance may be transferred to another better one. [opinion of Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel only, not accepted by codifiers. Ed.] It appears that this is what Yaakov did when he took birthright privileges away from Reuven,12 transferring them to Joseph, as it is written, “because he desecrated his father’s bed, his birthright was given to the sons of Yosef the son of Israel.”13 If you notice in this pasuk it says “the sons of Yosef, the son of Israel” because, as Ramban points out, once a firstborn dies, the father can assign the birthright to the grandsons however he desires. In this case, it was referring to a double portion of the land of Eretz Yisrael. When the land was divided in the time of Yehoshua, neither Reuven nor Yosef were alive, so Yaakov was permitted to transfer the birthright however he liked, since it was not to Reuven over Yosef, but Reuven’s sons to Yosef’s.
This comes to teach us that one cannot act out of sinat chinam (baseless hatred). In the case that the son was simply born to the wife that the husband has less love for, he shall not be treated unfavorably, but if the son himself did something that would warrant his loss of the favoritism, that is an entirely different story and teaching. The focus and the lesson is how one shall and shall not act in accordance with the feeling of hatred or love lossed. The Torah comes to teach here that our feelings of hate should be subordinated in order to do what’s right.
Indeed, all conflict and war is born of hatred and fear of the “other”, peace is born of love and giving, to oneself and to others. Feelings of love and care emerge through the action of giving. We have covered this concept via the Hebrew word for love, אהבה/ahava (ah-ha-va), the root of which, hav, means ‘to give’. Love is synonymous with giving.
As a people, we need to shift focus from what may differentiate us from one another to what we have in common. In Letting Go, Dr. David Hawkins articulates a technique to relinquish chronic resentment: “The mind would like us to think that there is such a thing as ‘justifiable anger,’ which takes the form of moralistic indignation. If we look at moralistic indignation, we will see that it is propped up by vanity and pride. We like to think how ‘right’ we are in a situation and how ‘wrong’ the other persons are. We get a passing cheap little satisfaction out of that, but our muscle-testing [research] proves that the cost is to our overall emotional and physical economy.”14
Another way to think about our collective Oneness is through water. We know that water is fundamental to all life; our bodies are mostly water, and the brain and heart, in particular, are composed of 73% water. That means we have 73% in common with every person in the world. Which gives new meaning to the saying “the grass is greener where you water it”. On top of that, people mirror each other’s inner belief system, so if we aren’t “watering” ourselves and those around us in connectedness and positivity, then individually and collectively we can’t grow. Hawkins says, “we are all psychically connected. The internal position we hold about another person is forcing them to adopt a complementary defensive position. It is therefore not Pollyannaish to forgive and forget, but a reasonable recognition of emotional realities.”15
And so we learn from this pasuk and parashah that we cannot make healthy decisions if they are from a space of anger or hatred. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. reminded us so eloquently, “darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” These dvars are all part of the Light of the Infinite book series. The idea is that only through light and love can one tap into Oneness and be connected to the light of the Divine source (known as Ein Sof “the Infinite”). And so I pray that we break free from the constrictions of finitude and the darkness that conceals the infinite light and come to a place of revelation, redemption, and everlasting Oneness.
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Notes & Sources
- Olat Rayah, Mosad Harav Kook, Agudah Lehotzoat Sifte Harayan Kooks, Jerusalem, 1939, p. 388
- Deuteronomy 21:15-17
- Genesis 49:3
- Covenant and Conversation by R’ Lord Jonathan Sacks, p. 184
- Likutei Moharan I, 2
- Likutei Halachot VIII, p. 100b-101a
- Talmud Kiddushin 68a
- Darash Moshe, p. 309
- Genesis 29:31
- R’ Y. Nachshoni, Hagot B’Parshiot HaTorah, p. 1322
- Talmud Baba Batra 133
- Chronicles I 5,1
- I Divrei HaYamim 5:1
- Letting Go by Dr. David Hawkins