The Torah Portion (Parasha) of this Shabbat is Ki Teze – Deuteronomy 21:10 – 25:19. One of the first instructions given in this portion of the Torah is the attitude of a father who has two wives toward his children. The case is not simple. This man has two wives, he loves the one and dislikes (or loves less) the other. His first born was born to the wife that he loved less and obviously his first-born son falls under his mother’s status. What will this father do in relationship to the inheritance? Does the father have the right to give his inheritance to the son of his beloved wife? Can he deny his first-born son the inheritance because he is the son of the wife that he loves less?
Here is what the Torah says: “If a man has two wives, the one loved and the other unloved, and both the loved and the unloved have borne him children, and if the firstborn son belongs to the unloved, then on the day when he assigns his possessions as an inheritance to his sons, he may not treat the son of the loved as the firstborn in preference to the son of the unloved, who is the firstborn, but he shall acknowledge the firstborn, the son of the unloved, by giving him a double portion of all that he has, for he is the first fruits of his strength. The right of the firstborn is his.” (Deuteronomy 21:15–17 ESV)
I find this Torah instruction extremely righteous. The right of the first born son cannot be a willful act but it is an inherent right that is immutable and if the man loves the mother of his first born son less than he loves his second wife, it still does not give him the right to give his inheritance to the son of the wife he loves more. Of course, today in the Christian world two wives are not permitted, and in the Jewish world only on very extreme and difficult conditions will the rabbis permit a person to marry a second wife. One of the few cases for such a permit would be if there are small children at home and his wife is mentally ill for a prolonged period and hospitalized and totally dysfunctional. In a case like this the Rabbinical court could give this man a permission to marry a second wife because he would not get a permission to divorce his first wife that is ill. In Biblical times two wives were common and sometimes more than two wives where not a rare sight. All our patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and many of our biblical heroes like King David had more than one wife. Not now, men have become wiser they learned from experience that one wife is enough.
So, although we don’t have two wives, we do have children and sometimes our children are more obedient and respected and other children are wilder and less obedient. It would not be rare for a father to leave his inheritance to the child that is more obedient even if he or she are not the first born. The Torah comes to instruct us that we must not treat our children by our own measure of judgement of like and dislike, but according to the law of God and honor the first-born child above our own personal likes. We must do everything possible to treat our children with equality and not show preference to one over the others. It is true that naturally one might be more amicable toward one or the other child, but from this Torah principle we learn that preferring one of our children on the others will bring a disaster.
Through all the Biblical story we see families where the father or the mother preferred one child over the other and we in Israel are still eating the humble pie as a result even up to today. Just think of Rebecca and Isaac. Rebecca preferred Jacob over Esau and now thousands of years later the children of Esau are still hating the children of Jacob. Think of Jacob making the same “mistake” and preferring Joseph over his 11 brothers – how deep a hate was created between the brothers. Yes, we also learn that God can use our “mistakes” and make good out of our weaknesses, but even than there is a price that is paid for our weakness in observing God’s instructions.
This article originally appeared at a part of The Jerusalem Prayer List by Netivyah Bible Instruction Ministry, August 30, 2017, and reposted with permission.