Sunday, December 21, 2008

Conceived First or Born first; Who is the Firstborn?

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The Gemora (Kiddushin 68) states: We have learned that kiddushin does take effect with women that are forbidden merely by a negative commandment. It is written [Devarim 21:15]: If a man has two wives, one beloved, and the other loathed. The Gemora asks: Is there a beloved or loathed wife before Hashem? Rather, the Torah is referring to their marriage. Beloved means that he is married to a permitted woman and loathed means that he is married to a prohibited woman and nevertheless, the Torah states regarding them “If a man has two wives.” We derive from here that if a man marries a woman that is forbidden to him merely by a negative commandment, the Torah recognizes and validates the marriage.

The verse mentioned above continues and states that if the loathed wife becomes the mother of the man’s firstborn son, the father is forbidden to deny that son the right to the double portion and give it instead to the son from the beloved wife.

How can the Torah refer to one of the wives as “a loathed one”? Why would it enter our mind that the father can deprive the son of the loathed one if he in fact is the firstborn? It would seem from the order of the words in the verse that the son of the beloved woman was actually born first.

The following explanation is written in the name of the Gr”a. The Torah is referring to a case where a man divorced a woman and that is why she is called “the loathed one.” He married another woman soon afterwards. His present wife gave birth to a son seven months after the marriage. The divorced woman gave birth to a son after nine months. One might think that the double portion designated for the firstborn should go to the son of the beloved woman because he was born first; the Torah teaches us that this is not the case. Since the son of the loathed woman was conceived first, by rights, he is deserving of the double portion. This is what the Torah means when it says “for he is the first-fruits of his strength.”

There are those (the Netziv) who question if the Gr”a ever said this. One of the questions that they ask is from Rashi in Bereishis (25:26), who writes from a Medrash: The interpretation is in accordance to its simple meaning: Yaakov held onto Esav’s heel lawfully, to restrain him. Yaakov was formed from the first drop and Esav from the second. We can learn from a tube that has a narrow opening. If one would insert two stones into it, one after the other, the one that entered first will emerge last, and the one that entered last will emerge first. The result is that Esav, who was formed last, emerged first, and Yaakov, who was formed first emerged last, and Yaakov came to restrain him so that he should be the first to be born as he was the first to be formed, and he would open her womb and take the birthright by law.

According to the Gr”a, this leaves us with a question: If Yaakov was the true firstborn, why was it necessary for him to purchase the birthright from Esav?

The Kli Chemda differentiates between the birthright for inheritance, which is related to the time of conception (since it is based on a relationship with the father) and between the rights to serve in the Beis Hamikdosh, which is dependent on the time of birth. This is what Yaakov wished to purchase from Esav.