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A Tale of Two Spouses

Struggling with My Challenging Parts Brings Me a Double Portion of Light

    Rabbi YY Jacobson

    2648 views
  • August 11, 2010
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  • 1 Elul 5770
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Class Summary:

A Tale of Two Spouses - A Stroll with G-d on the Beach

Dedicated by David and Eda Schottenstein
in the loving memory of Rabbi Gavriel Noach and Rivki Holtzberg and all of the Mumbai Kedoshim


And in loving memory of a young soul Alta Shula Swerdlov
daughter of Rabbi Yossi and Hindel Swerdlov

Who's Doing the Talking?

"Does marriage change one's personality?" Greg asked his buddy Mike.

"In a way," says Mike. "You see, when I was engaged, I did most of the talking and she did most of the listening. When we just got married she did most of the talking and I did most of the listening.

"Now we both do most of the talking and the neighbors do all of the listening."

Firstborn Rights

This week's Torah portion (Ki Seitzei) states the following law[1]:

"If a man will have two wives, one beloved and one unloved, and both the loved and unloved wives have sons, and the firstborn son is that of the unloved one; on the day that this man wills his property to his sons, he cannot give the son of the beloved wife birthright preference above the son of the unloved wife, the firstborn.

"Rather, he must recognize the firstborn, the son of the unloved one, to give him the double portion in all his property."

On the most literal level, these verses mandate that a firstborn son shall inherit a double portion of his father's estate, while each subsequent son shall inherit an equal portion of the property. A father does not have the power to bequeath the double portion reserved for the firstborn to one of the other sons he loves, and any attempt to do so is ignored by Jewish law.

As the Talmud makes clear[2], a person is certainly empowered to distribute his entire estate to one of the other sons (or to any other individual for that matter), as long as he conveys it as a gift. But if he chooses to bequeath the estate to one of the sons as an inheritance and so deny his firstborn son's rights as a natural heir, then the father's attempt has no legal validity in the Jewish judicial system[3].

What is disturbing, however, is the Torah's need to state the point via a negative example of a man who loves one of his wives and loathes the other. Why was it necessary to use a crude and offensive illustration in order to make the simple point that the firstborn son is entitled to a double portion of the inheritance regardless of the father's preferences?

A Spiritual Manual

One of the essential factors to bear in mind during Torah study is the idea that each mitzvah, law, and episode described in the Torah contains—in addition to its physical and concrete interpretation—a psychological and spiritual dimension as well[4]. In his commentary on the Torah, 13th-century Spanish sage, Nachmanides, writes[5]: "The Torah discusses the physical reality, but it alludes to the world of the spirit." Another great Kabbalist went even further. 17th-century mystic Rabbi Menachem Azaryah of Fanu (in Italy) states that "The Torah discusses the spiritual reality, and it alludes to the physical world[6]."

The stories and laws in the Torah ought to be understood first and foremost as events and laws in the spiritual realm, and this is actually the primary method of Torah interpretation. But in its communication of spiritual truths, the Torah also lends itself to be interpreted in a physical and concrete fashion.

What then is the spiritual meaning of the seemingly coarse description of "a man who will have two wives, one beloved and one unloved, and both the loved and unloved wives have sons, and the firstborn son is that of the hated one"? How are we to understand this in the universe of the spirit? 

The Struggling Vs. the Romantic Soul

Judaism teaches that the relationship between each husband and wife reflects the cosmic relationship between G-d (the Groom) and the Jewish people (the Bride). The entire book "Song of Songs" by King Solomon is based on the notion that our human relationships are capable of reflecting the Divine marriage with Israel[7].

There are two types of people who enter into a marriage with G-d: the "beloved spouse" and the "unloved spouse." The "beloved spouse" represents those individuals who enjoy a continuous romance with G-d. Their souls are overflowing with spiritual ecstasy, selfless idealism, and fiery inspiration. They cannot stop loving G-d, and G-d cannot stop loving them. On the other end of the spectrum stand the "despised spouses," people possessing numerous qualities that can easily be spurned: immoral urges, depressing feelings, vulgar passions, ugly temptations, and angry sensations.

These are the people whose hearts are not always ablaze with love toward the Divine oneness of reality; their marriage to their Divine soul is a struggle. Their psyches vibrate with paradox. Throughout their life, they must battle not to become a victim of challenging instincts and cravings [8]

The Torah teaches us that G-d's "firstborn son" may very well come not from His union with the beloved spouse but rather from His relationship with the despised spouse[9]. The spiritual harvest that a struggling human being produces as a result of his or her tumultuous romance with G-d, may often be far deeper and more powerful than that of the spiritually serene person.

Working with all the parts in my brain and heart, discovering the goodness deeply hidden in all of my emotions and dispositions, brings me to a much deeper space of oneness and love [10]. The morality and the integrity that emerges from the midst of my confronting daily the parts of me that seem so loathsome contain a unique depth and splendor not possessed by the straightforward saintly path.

Thus, "On the day that He wills His property to His sons, He cannot give the son of the beloved wife birthright preference above the son of the hated wife, the firstborn. Rather, He must recognize the firstborn, the son of the hated one, to give him the double portion in all His property." On a spiritual level, this means, that on the day that Moshiach will come, when humanity will finally taste the full-Divinity in the world--and when I discover the Moshiach consciousness in my own intimate life--a "double portion" of G-dliness will be revealed in the arduous labor and sweat of the individual who never stopped fighting for his soul.

During the Struggle

You might recall the moving poem written by a profound heart:

One night I had a dream. I dreamed I was walking along the beach with G-d. Many scenes from my life flashed across the sky. In each scene, I noticed footprints in the sand.

Sometimes there were two sets of footprints, other times there was only one.

I noticed that during the low periods of my life, when I was suffering from anguish, sorrow or defeat, I could see only one set of footprints. So I said to G-d, “You promised me, Lord, that you would walk with me always. But I have noticed that during the most difficult times of my life, there has only been one set of footprints in the sand. Why, when I needed you most, you were not there for me?”

G-d replied, “My precious child, I love you, and would never leave you. The times when you saw only one set of footprints, was when I was carrying you.”

(This essay is based on a discourse by Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi delivered in 1793[11]).

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[1] Deuteronomy 21:15-17.
[2] Mishnah Bava Basra 126b. Cf. Rambam Hilchos Nachalos chapter 6; Tur and Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat section 281; Sefer Hachenuch Mitzvah 400.
[3] For an explanation of this law see Sefer HaChinuch ibid.
[4] See Likkutei Sichos vol. 23 pp. 37-38 and references noted there.
[5] At the conclusion of his commentary to Genesis 1:1.
[6] Asarah Maamaros Maammar Chekur Din 3:22.
[7] Cf. Rambam Laws of Teshuvah chapter 10.
[8] See Tanya chapter 27 for an elaborate discussion of these two types of souls.
[9] See Tanya ibid. Cf. Likkutei Sichos vol. 20 pp. 108-115 that this constituted the essential distinction between the souls of Jacob and his twin brother Esau and this was the superior potential of Esau's soul, for which reason Isaac desired to grant him his blessings. This fits well with Or Hatorah Ki Seitzei (vol. 6 p. 2359) where the author explains that the "two wives" discussed in this week's portion reflect the spirits of Jacob and Esau.
[10] Cf. Or Hachaim on the verse, who explains on the literal level, that the Torah is promising the firstborn son to the unloved wife.
[11] Maamarei Admur Hazaken Haktzarim pp. 118-119 (for the date of this discourse  -- see footnote there). See also Likkutei Torah Seitzei pp. 37-38 and Or Hatorah quoted in footnote # 9 for a similar explanation on the subject.

 

Please leave your comment below!

  • Anonymous -4 years ago

    Comment and questions

    Thanks for this. Comment and question: It is somewhat comforting for those of us who struggle especially re Love & G-d that our struggle will bear fruit ultimately.  Personally, I can't stand the "husband-wife" metaphor...it repulses me--  can you respond to that?  Also, it says in the footnotes that Esav's soul was superior to Yaakov and Yitzhak wanted to give Esav the blessings.... but we know what happened.  Surely, Esav's soul is no longer superior-- I ask that because the xians could argue that since they come from Esav, they are superior ch'v.  Can you respond? (I'm referring to Ari'zal saying that  yashkie is a gilgul Esav who is a gilgul Nachash (snake)... that's also why I don't get the "Esav superior soul" because part of his gilgul was from the snake!

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    Ari -5 years ago

    Beautiful message this week. I often struggle with belief and Judaism on a daily basis. Sometimes, these messages give me a little bit of a spark to do better, be better and look deeper.

    Much Love!

     Have a Great Shabbos .

    Reply to this comment.Flag this comment.

Essay Ki Seitzei

Rabbi YY Jacobson
  • August 11, 2010
  • |
  • 1 Elul 5770
  • |
  • 2648 views
  • Comment

Dedicated by David and Eda Schottenstein
in the loving memory of Rabbi Gavriel Noach and Rivki Holtzberg and all of the Mumbai Kedoshim


And in loving memory of a young soul Alta Shula Swerdlov
daughter of Rabbi Yossi and Hindel Swerdlov

Class Summary:

A Tale of Two Spouses - A Stroll with G-d on the Beach

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