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Anyway, here's the question I want to leave you with. This week's parsha introduces a bizarre set of laws, but it also uses bizarre language to describe these laws. "Ki tihiyenah l'ish shtei nashim," when a man will have two wives -- in those times, polygamy was permissible. "Achat ahuvah v'achat senuah," a wife that he loves and a wife that he hates.
A wife that he hates? Such a mean thing to say. Why does the Torah say it that way? Just say he has two wives, a wife he loves, a wife he doesn't love quite as much. A wife he hates? What's he doing married to her if he hates her so much? Why would the Torah talk about it this way?
Now, just so we understand the context here, what the Torah is about to tell us is that when the man is married to these two wives, one of which he loves more than the other, he has to treat the child who is biologically born first as his bechor, as his firstborn. He shouldn't give in to the temptation to give the child that he loves more, in other words the child from the loved wife, as his firstborn if that child is in fact younger. That's going to be the point of the Torah here.
But now, let's come back to the question I just asked you. Why would the Torah use such a jarring phrase to describe this wife that he loves less? Why would it call her a senuah (hated one)? And the answer, the tentative answer I'd like to suggest to you is that the Torah is playing a little game with us, because it turns out that that word, senuah, appears before -- and only one time before in the entire Five Books of Moses. There actually is a woman who gets called that, a real, live woman, in the narrative section of the Torah.
Who is called a senuah? And yes, you probably guessed it. That woman is Leah, Jacob's wife. Now, before you just dismiss this as sounding crazy, isn't it kind of interesting that actually, the situations match up? Which is to say that Jacob's family situation matches up exactly with what's being described here in this legal section of text. Jacob did have two wives; one which he loved more than the other. Jacob loved Rachel more than Leah. More than that, these two wives both had children. The firstborn child of Leah was Reuben. The firstborn child of Rachel was Joseph. I mean, the situations match up. Think of the implications.
The Torah is telling you that the Jacob man has to treat Reuben, the oldest child, as his bechor (firstborn) and can't treat Joseph, who is relatively younger than Reuben, as his bechor instead. Do you understand what's going on here? It's like the Torah here in Deuteronomy is levelling this retroactive kind of criticism of Jacob and saying he didn't do it the right way? Or at the very least, it's saying that in the future you can't do it that way, you have to do it differently.
Now, right around here you just sort of have to stop and just shake yourself back to reality and say, one second, is any of this real, Rav Fohrman, or are you just getting completely carried away with yourself? Great, so you found one work, senuah, you matched it up over there and great, their family situations match up. But how do you know that's real? Maybe you're just getting carried away with yourself here.
How would we know? Let's come back and talk about that. I'll see you in a couple days.
1. Bereishit: Does Man 'Acquire' Woman?
2. Noach: Why Did God Destroy the World?
3. Lech Lecha: Covenant With God
4. Vayeira: Abraham's Struggle With Loyalty
5. Chayei Sarah: What Makes For A Successful Life?
6. Toldot: A Conversation For the Ages
7. Vayishlach: Becoming a Person of Integrity
8. Vayeishev: Who Really Sold Joseph?
9. Miketz: Why Didn't Joseph Write Home?
10. Vayigash: The Epic Confrontation Between Judah and Joseph
11. Vayechi: Who is Joseph's Real Father?
12. Shmot: If Midrash is Real, Why Isn't It Peshat?
13. Va'era: Did God Take Away Pharaoh's Free Will?
14. Bo: Did God Really Need Ten Plagues?
15. Beshalach: What Does It Mean to Have Faith?
16. Yitro: The Marriage of God and Israel
17. Mishpatim: Female Servitude...Wait, What?
18. Terumah: Is There a Face Hiding in the Tabernacle?
19. Tetzaveh: Where Is God In a Physical World?
20. Ki Tisa: Moshe's Benevolent Chutzpah
21. Ki Tisa: Epilogue
22. Vayikra: Can Leaders Make Mistakes?
23. Tzav: What Does It Mean To Survive?
24. Shemini: Why Did God Reject Nadav and Avihu?
25. Tazria: The Bizarre Purification of the Metzora
26. Metzora: Living Within the Community
27. Acharei Mot: The (Surprising) Purpose of Yom Kippur
28. Kedoshim: How Can I Achieve True Love?
29. Emor: What Sabbath Is All About
30. Behar: Why Does Land Have To Rest?
31. Bechukotai: Why Would God Curse His People?
32. Bamidbar: Who Cares About Genealogy?
33. Shelach: Is Hope Irrational?
34. Korach: Can We Influence God?
35. Chukat: Was Hitting the Rock So Horrible?
36. Balak: Balaam, Prophet For Hire?
37. Pinchas: What Does It Mean To Be Zealous For God?
38. Matot: Why Is The End of Bamidbar So Anticlimactic?
39. Masei: Why Is The End of Bamidbar So Anticlimactic? II
40. Devarim: What Does It Mean To Have Faith?
41. Va'etchanan: Seeing Layers in the Ten Commandments
42. Eikev: What Does It Mean To Be A Good Person?- Part 1/2
43. Eikev: What Does It Mean To Be A Good Person?- Part 2/2
44. Re'eh: The Strange Laws Of Jewish Slavery
45. Shoftim: The Line Between Murder And Apathy
46. Shoftim: Epilogue 1
47. Shoftim: Epilogue 2
48. Ki Teitzei: The Hated Wife- Part 1/2
49. Ki Teitzei: The Hated Wife- Part 2/2
50. Ki Tavo: The Soliloquy Of The Farmer- Part 1/2
51. Ki Tavo: The Soliloquy Of The Farmer- Part 2/2
52. Nitzavim-Vayeilech: Where's the Happy Ending? - Part 1/3
53. Ha'azinu: A Unique Nation - Part 2/3
54. V'Zot Habracha: Looking Towards the Future - Part 3/3
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