Monday, August 31, 2009

From this week’s parshah (portion), Ki Tetze: 
[This is the law] when a man has two wives, one whom he loves and one whom he dislikes, and both the loved and unloved wives have sons, but the first-born is that of the unloved one. Deuteronomy 21:15

On the day that [this man] wills his property to his sons, he must not give the son of the beloved wife birthright preference over the first-born, who is the son of the unloved wife. Deuteronomy 21:16

           There are so many in our generation who feel that they are the children of the unloved. The daily reality is that large numbers of Jews feel rejected from or somehow unacceptable to Judaism, to Torah, to God. They’ll often describe themselves to me as “bad Jews” – a concept I have a hard time wrapping my head around. What, precisely does it mean to be a bad Jew? Can one be bad at her own identity?

            This reality expresses itself on the one hand as great distance: feeling judged unworthy, they too should reject Jewish life; and on the other as great anger at being kept from what by right belongs to them.

            But to set the record straight, there are no unloved children in Judaism. When the Holy One sends Moses to Pharoah, the first words out of Moses’ mouth are to be: says God, Israel is my first born child. (Exodus 4:22)
and from the prophet Jeremiah:
Is not Israel my sweet child, the baby with whom I played? (Jeremiah, 31:19)

            The point of this Torah, as well as the prophet’s message, is clear: we are, each of us, precious from the beginning. This intrinsic worth and value are possessions that would be extremely difficult to devalue. The mussar (lesson) here, however, is that it resides upon the individual to be conscious of his own value to Judaism and to claim it for his own self. This is to say that, when it comes to Judaism, our birthright is waiting for us to step forward and claim it. No one else can take hold of Torah for us.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Scott Perlo