“In Place of Your Fathers Shall Be Your Children”: The Philosophical Principles of Inheritance

  • Harav Mosheh Lichtenstein


Adapted by Motti Guttman

Translated by David Strauss



The concept of inheritance arises in a number of contexts in the Torah, most prominently in Parashat Pinchas. It is also the central topic of the eighth chapter of Massekhet Bava Batra, Yesh Nochalin. Naturally, the discussion of the laws of inheritance focuses largely on the financial matters at issue among the heirs, leading to the discussion and clarification of a number of fundamental questions regarding monetary law. For that reason, chapter Yesh Nochalin has an important place in the world of Choshen Mishpat.


However, the issue of inheritance is not merely monetary. The yerusha (inheritance) is not simply money that we have to decide what to do with. Of course, it is preferable to award the estate of the deceased to his surviving relatives, and not to the state or the income tax authorities; the gemara itself notes, "Should the town collector be the heir?" (Bava Batra 110b). This, however, is not the essence of the laws of inheritance.


Inheritance – Breaching the Boundaries of the Present


At the heart of the concept of inheritance lies a significant principle: that of permanence and continuity. When Avraham Avinu entered the Land, he was forced to pitch his tent in different places and live the life of a wanderer. In contrast, the idea of inheritance establishes that a person should not live a life of impermanence. Moshe expresses the desire for a state of permanence in his words to Israel at the plains of Moav: "For you are not as yet come to the rest and to the inheritance" (Devarim 12:9). This verse was also expounded as referring to the Temple. The idea of inheritance, in this context, creates existential permanence, which is reflected in Halakha. From the time that Jerusalem was selected, it became the permanent site of the Temple, and from that point on, offering sacrifices on bamot was forbidden due to the damage that this would cause to the idea of the Temple as the chosen inheritance.


Inheritance constitutes permanence and it creates continuity because it allows the individual to breach the boundaries of the present. From the time of creation, reality dictates that "One generation passes away and another generation comes, but the earth abides forever" (Kohelet 1:4). Man's days are numbered, and sooner or later he will disappear from the world. By his very definition, he is temporary – like the flower that fades, the shadow that passes, the dust that floats, and the dream that flies away. He is here today and in the grave tomorrow. In contrast, his inheritance remains and affords him continuity. From parent to child and from child to grandchild and great-grandchild, the chain continues and death does not sever it. To a certain extent, this allows one to overcome death and oblivion.


Ownership of property and land in itself does not preventing transience or create continuity; it is the identification of inheritance with the family and its heritage in the past and the present that creates the permanence and continuity. A central concept in Jewish law is the concept of the "house," which denotes a family that constitutes a unit of common heritage – "After their families, by the house of their fathers." We are familiar with this concept from various realms of Halakha. For example, a man whose brother died without children marries the widow through yibum, levirate marriage, in order to continue the family, and he is thereby able to perpetuate the name of the deceased, since they belong to a common “house.” Because of the great importance that the Torah attributes to perpetuating the name of the deceased and continuing his legacy, it established the mechanism of levirate marriage despite the personal, familial and halakhic difficulties entailed in marriage to one's brother's wife. Indeed, the mitzva of yibum takes precedence over the mitzva of chalitza because of the mission of perpetuating the brother's name.[1] The language of the text itself creates a connection between yibum and inheritance, as the purpose of the mitzva is defined as "to perpetuate the name of the deceased on his inheritance."


The principle of continuity and its importance in a person’s life is further reflected in the statement of Chazal (Nedarim 64b) that includes one who does not have any children among those who are considered as if they were dead.


While continuity expresses itself on the concrete level through the transmission of property, much more important, of course, is ensuring continuity on the level of values, goals, and existential aspirations, which constitute the true heritage that a person leaves behind. The prophet Yeshaya emphasized how a person's eternal heritage endures:


For thus says the Lord to the eunuchs who keep My Sabbath, and choose the things that please Me, and take hold of My covenant. And to them will I give in My house and within My walls a memorial better that sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name, that shall not be cut off. (Yeshaya 56:4-5)


Indeed, there is more than one plane on which a person achieves inheritance and continuity. Inheritance is part of the system that turns the transition between generations into something permanent and stable, allowing family identity to be transmitted across the generations.


In this light, we can understand Chazal's critique of a person who leaves no inheritance. As we read in a mishna in Yesh Nochalin (Bava Batra 133b):


If a person gives his estate in writing to strangers and leaves out his children, his arrangements are legally valid, but the spirit of the Sages finds no delight in him.


The reference here is not to a person who did not leave an inheritance due to poverty or distress, but rather to a person who decided to give away his estate for other purposes, as positive as they may be,[2] or based on the perception that his children should fend for themselves. The idea behind this mishna is the need to leave a legacy for future generations. The principle of passing down to the next generation is of central importance.


Know From Whence You Come!


This perception of inheritance is rooted in a general and comprehensive idea that pervades all of Jewish life – namely, that we do not live only in the present. Judaism rejects a horizontal perspective on man, according to which man is connected only to his current environment. Our relationship is not only with this generation. Rather, our sights are at all times directed at "the one who stands here with us this day before the Lord our God, and also with the one who is not here with us this day" (Devarim 29:14). The hope is to establish a relationship of shared destiny with the past, on both the national and the personal level.


This is why we mourn to this day various historical events that happened to our ancestors. We do not say, "What happened, happened." The sense of pain and tragedy that Jewish law demands of a person indicates that it expects one to experience these things in unmediated fashion, as if they occurred to people he knows, and not only that he relate to them as events of the distant past for the purpose of learning a lesson from history. "In every generation one must see himself as if he went out from Egypt." Just as a Jew is expected to feel the pain of his Jewish brothers injured in terrorist attacks in Argentina, Turkey, Paris, or Afula, regardless of the geographical distance between them, because all of Israel are responsible for and close to one another, he is similarly expected to feel pain over events that took place a long time ago.


The ability to draw from our heritage and know what happened to our ancestors is important in itself. The actions of our forefathers interest us, regardless of the spiritual insights that can be derived from them, because of the feeling of existential partnership between us and our ancestors. Avraham and Sara, Yitzchak and Rivka, Yaakov, Rachel and Leah, are not only the nation's patriarchs and matriarchs, but also our forefathers. They are not only lofty figures, but also Grandpa and Grandma – and for this reason the Torah shared their lives with us. Just as a grandson is interested in hearing from his grandfather or his grandmother about life in Eastern Europe or North Africa a century ago, we want to know what happened in Mesopotamia during the time of Avraham and Sara. A person's life in the present is intertwined with the history of his forefathers in the past. One is intricately connected to his past; one does not grow up in a vacuum.


Models of Inheritance


The first mishna in Yesh Nochalin presents us with a number of possible models for those who inherit and those who transmit inheritance:


Some [relatives] inherit [from] and transmit [to each other]; some inherit but do not transmit; some transmit but do not inherit; some neither inherit nor transmit.


Clearly, the ideal is that a person should inherit and transmit inheritance, that he should be numbered among those who are “nochalin u-manchilin.” As stated above, the inheritance is not simply property for the heir, but rather constitutes a familial plot filled with existential significance. He inherits – deciding to connect himself to his past and to his heritage. And he is interested in transmitting inheritance – adding his contribution to the heritage, the personal layer that he adds to the inheritance and passes down to the next generation.


In contrast, there are those who inherit but do not transmit, “nochalin ve-lo manchilin” – who draw from the past and connect to it, but are not capable of passing their heritage on. Perhaps this is because they do not consider this stage important, or perhaps they lack the capacity to give their heritage over to others and to connect to the next generation. Such a person does not know how to take from the past and interpret it for his children in the future. He is familiar with the world of the past, but he lacks the tools to apply the past and its heritage to the challenges of the present and the future.


The reverse case also exists – “yesh manchilin ve-einam nochalin,” there are those who transmit but who do not inherit. They wish to pass on their personal legacy, but they are cut off from the past, or so they imagine. In their eyes, everything began in their generation. Previous generations erred or were weak; there is no need to receive their inheritance, laden with the outdated baggage of Diaspora life. This heir is not prepared to connect to the past or to recognize that he is dependent upon it. Blinded by his present achievements, he is alienated from the past and the weight of tradition.


The most tragic group neither inherits nor transmits inheritance, “lo nochalin ve-lo manchilin.” They are cut off from every bit of the past. They live only in the present and are utterly devoid of worry about the future – "After me, the deluge."


The concept of inheritance serves as a bridge between the past and the future. In this context, the individual is merely another link in a chain. If we consider the chain of tradition recorded by the Rambam in his introduction to the Mishneh Torah, more important than any particular Sage is the very chain of tradition itself. The value of each link lies in the fact that it allows the chain to continue. This is the connection and bridge between all the generations, from Avraham Avinu until the Mashiach.


Spiritual Heritage through Physical Means


As noted above, the transmission takes place through tangible means as well. It is obvious to us that it is values and ideas, Torah and mitzvot, that constitute the heritage that passes from one generation to the next. It is easy to understand the statement: "Moshe commanded us the Torah, the inheritance of the congregation of Yaakov" (Devarim 33:4). It is more difficult to grasp that the Torah also attaches great importance to tangible inheritance, to the transmission of physical property.


Chazal teach us that "monuments are not built for the righteous; their words are their memorials" (Bereishit Rabba 82). We do not set up statues or tombstones for the righteous, for it is their spiritual legacy that serves as their memorial. Nevertheless, the ability to touch the past by way of some object bestows additional meaning on that heritage. Touching the physical possession of a deceased relative gives a person the sense of an unmediated encounter with the past. One generation passes away and another generation comes, but an object that remains provides a connection to the earlier period.


Man is a physical creature, and contact with material objects is meaningful to him as a reminder of and bridge to the past. Not only is it meaningful to transmit the life story of the deceased to future generations and to talk about his values, but it is also important to be able to connect with him on the most basic level. When a person comes across an object that belonged to his relative, it is important to him even if it lacks monetary value or is in no way unique. The tangible item turns the past into something immediate on a level that cannot be achieved by any other means.


A number of years ago, a Torah scroll that belonged to the Ran and a seal that was reportedly that of the Ramban were displayed in an exhibition devoted to Spanish Jewry before the expulsion. It is difficult to describe the thrill that I felt when I understood that this seal was once held by the Ramban himself and that the Ran had once used this Torah scroll. I also remember the feeling of immediacy that I felt when someone showed me an etrog box that had once belonged to R. Akiva Eiger. We are physical beings who come from the dust, and physical things therefore speak to us. Paradoxically, it is precisely material objects, which are essentially transient, that maintain their permanence for centuries, creating a bridge between the past and the future.


The need for connection through objects, which is natural and self-evident given that we are humans of flesh and blood, also underlies the Torah and the practical mitzvot. Judaism is not built exclusively on vague and abstract values. In response to the human need for concreteness, a system of practical commandments was created in order to express a system of ideas. The performance of mitzvot creates a channel for religious experience and opens the way for a connection between man and God. The experience associated with taking a lulav or eating matza reflects how much an object plays a role in the human religious experience.


In a person's private life, intimate family connections are not based exclusively on profound conversations about noble values, but are rather manifest in shared day-to-day experiences, including the trivial problems that engage an ordinary family in everyday conduct, such as who will wash the dishes or fold the laundry. Similarly, this component of activity that is ongoing but not uplifting plays a role in our observance of the mitzvot. Just as a family lives closely together and creates connections even through banal activities, the mitzvot create a common religious experience with God among all those observing them.


Thus, objects can provide existential meaning, but this depends upon the eye of the beholder. A person who relates to an inheritance merely as a set of objects and not as a means to continue the past will not see any unique significance in those objects.


The Uniqueness of the Firstborn


Thus far, we have discussed the idea of heirs and inheritance in general, the concept of personal and national heritage in the sense of "You are the children of the Lord your God" (Devarim 14:1). We have not discussed any unique status of any of the heirs. This indeed follows the model of the first half of Yesh Nochalin. At this point, we must move on to the second half of the chapter and to the concept of the birthright, the special privileges bestowed upon a firstborn.


In addition to the passage dealing with inheritance in Sefer Bamidbar, a passage in Sefer Devarim assigns special status to a firstborn son. The concept of the bechora, primogeniture, is not merely factual but rather value-laden. This is reflected in the gemara’s emphasis on the idea of “recognizing” the firstborn (based on the word “yakir” in the verse). The birthright expresses an interpersonal relationship unique to the parent and firstborn; it assumes a certain connection between them. Therefore, a firstborn only inherits a double portion if he was alive during his father's lifetime (Bava Batra 142b) and the father recognizes him as his firstborn son (127a).[3] For this reason, we also maintain that "the Torah calls it [the firstborn’s double portion] a gift." In Halakha, a gift is not merely a certain type of acquisition, but rather an expression of intimacy. The firstborn inherits as one who receives a gift, directly from the father and not through the house or family. All of a person's strengths are reflected first and foremost in his firstborn. A father is supposed to feel a partnership with his sons, and the firstborn is the first child with whom this closeness is created.


The Concept of Birthright in the Bible


The birthright is referred to prominently in three contexts in the Bible: the struggle over the birthright between Yaakov and Esav; the story of Yaakov's two firstborn sons, Reuven and Yosef; and the description of Israel as "My son, My firstborn" (Shemot 4:22). These models point to the importance attached to the firstborn, as well as to the dangers that this status creates.


Concerning the opportunity and the danger posed by the birthright, it is appropriate to cite two midrashim from Avot De-Rabbi Natan:


Israel were called "sons," as it is stated: "You are the sons of the Lord your God" (Devarim 14:1), and the ministering angels are called "sons," as it is stated: "The sons of God came" (Iyov 1:6), and you do not know which are more loved. When it says: "Israel is My son, My firstborn," [it makes clear that] you are more precious to me than the ministering angels. (44a)


The firstborn is perceived here as a clear expression of endearment and special closeness. Another midrash in Avot De-Rabbi Natan speaks in a different tone, recognizing that not every firstborn is dearly loved:


Israel is precious, for in His time of anger they are called "sons." In His time of anger they are called sons, and even at a time when the verse says: "Not His is the corruption, but the blemish of His sons" (Devarim 32:5) – sons in whom I have no trust, corrupt sons. Therefore, the Sages taught that they are called sons of God… But not every firstborn is precious and dear. There is a firstborn who is precious and dear, and there is also a firstborn who is not precious and dear. (8a)


This midrash points to the problematic nature of the firstborn. It is simple to speak of the beauty and loftiness of the idea of Israel being "My son, My firstborn." But this does not necessarily reflect reality, as we find in the stories dealing with the birthright in the book of Bereishit.


Yaakov vs. Esav – Values vs. Money


Esav views inheritance as a way to acquire property: "Behold, I am at the point of death, and what profit shall this birthright be to me?" (Bereishit 25:32). Ostensibly, the opposite is actually true! It is precisely at the point of death that the birthright acquires greater importance, for through it Esav could be counted as part of the line of the house of Avraham and as a link that transmits the heritage of the past to the coming generations. In this way, his memory would be preserved for generations, even after he dies. But Esav understands that he will derive no monetary gain from the inheritance, as he is about to die, and he is therefore prepared to sell his birthright for a pot of lentils.


The commentators discuss the manner in which Yaakov took the birthright from Esav, and the Rishonim deal with the legal question of how Yaakov could acquire the birthright even though it was something that had not yet come into existence (“davar she-lo ba le-olam”). Many explanations have been offered, but it is possible to suggest one very simple answer. Esav did not sell the birthright to Yaakov; he lost it because his actions proved that he was not worthy of it. His very readiness to sell his birthright for a pot of lentils attested to his attitude toward the birthright and to his alienation from the world of Yitzchak. Anyone who scorns the birthright demonstrates that he does not understand its significance, and thus forfeits it.


Sometimes, a child relates to his parents as an infinite source of rights. He wishes only to receive benefits and service from his parents; he is not prepared to accept the burden of transferring the legacy of previous generations. It is not for naught that the midrash (Bereishit Rabba 67:8; 75:9) describes Esav as ready to arrange for the murder of Yaakov and Yishmael in order to inherit the entire inheritance of Avraham. When the birthright is perceived not as a responsibility and sacred mission, but as an opportunity to profit at the expense of others, when the attitude toward inheritance is like that toward any monetary matter, it is not surprising to find that a violent man would be prepared to kill the other heirs and to employ a variety of schemes in order to inherit more assets.


Yaakov, in contrast, views the birthright not only as a right, but as a mission. He wants to perpetuate Avraham's blessing in the world, and he sees the birthright as a destiny that will confer that mission upon him. It is not by chance that Chazal saw the pot of lentils as a dish denoting mourning over Avraham's passing, for it is around this event that the debate focuses. The test is whether to view this as an opportunity for profit – on the tangible level, through the eating of the beans, and on the symbolic level, through benefit from the property of the deceased – or as a call to assume responsibility and accept the authority of the firstborn.


Reuven vs. Yosef – Competition vs. Continuity


Another pair of brothers who compete over the birthright presents us with a different model that is problematic for a different reason. On the one hand, "Reuven, you are my firstborn, my might and the beginning of my strength, the excellency of dignity and the excellency of power" (Bereishit 49:3). It is upon Reuven that Yaakov pins his entire future and all of his hopes. On the other hand, "Unstable as water, you shall not excel; because you went up to your father's bed; then you did defile it: he went up to my couch" (ibid. 49:4), and in Divrei Ha-Yamim: "Now the sons of Reuven the firstborn of Israel – for he was the firstborn, but since he defiled his father's bed, his birthright was given to the sons of Yosef the son of Yisrael" (I Divrei Ha-Yamim 5:1). Because he defiled his father's bed, the birthright was taken away from Reuven. Esav was indifferent to the birthright and to the past; he sought in his inheritance only monetary gain. Reuven suffers from the opposite problem – he sees himself as competing with his father and contending against him. No matter how we understand the specifics of Reuven's sin when he defiled his father's bed, the implication is the same – it was an attempt to push his father aside and take his place during his lifetime. Reuven challenged his father's standing as head of the family. He rejected Yaakov's authority, and by doing so he impaired his own standing.


The way of the world is that at some stage in a person's life, there is a reversal of roles. The strong parent, the firm rock, turns into a frail old man, at which point the sons must help the parent. Sometimes, they are even compelled to make decisions for the parent. Indeed, at the end of Yaakov's life, when he arrived in Egypt a broken and ill man, Yosef made various decisions for him. All this is possible and appropriate when the father is old and weak, when there is no other way, but not when the father is at the height of his strength and is fit to stand on his own two feet. The firstborn is meant to be the continuation of his father, but not his replacement who is in competition with him. The father bestows the birthright – "The Torah calls it a gift." A son may not take the birthright by force.


The similarity between Reuven and Yaakov could have prepared Reuven to be his father's successor. However, when that similarity is interpreted as competition, the firstborn's reward is cancelled out by his loss. Yosef was also similar to Yaakov, but he knew how to actualize that similarity at the proper time and not to replace him while he was still alive. The birthright was thus taken from Reuven, as from Esav, because he was unsuited for it.


The transfer of property from an unfit son is the subject of a dispute between the Sages and R. Shimon ben Gamliel (133b), and we rule that property should not be transferred even from a wicked son to a good son. But in such a case, we are not dealing with an impairment in the firstborn’s functioning as a firstborn, but rather with a general problem, and we therefore do not want to cancel the birthright. However, when the son sets himself in competition with his father, when he defiles his father’s bed, the birthright is removed from him.


The Actions of the Fathers are a Sign for the Sons


The relationship between God and Israel should be examined in a similar manner. As stated to Moshe, Israel is "My son, My firstborn" (Shemot 22:4). What this means is that on a certain level, all the nations are God's children; the birthright does not negate the standing of the other brothers, but rather bestows a certain advantage on the firstborn while recognizing the others as sons.[4] But how are we to understand our relationship to God as His firstborn? Are we more precious to God than the ministering angels, as is stated in the first midrash cited above? Or are we perhaps like the firstborn who is not cherished and dear, as he appears in the second midrash? Will we be alienated from God? Will we be like a firstborn who is first among his brothers, but aware of his place? Or perhaps, God forbid, we will view ourselves in competition with God?


Of course, the desired model is a permanent and meaningful relationship in which the individual feels the presence of the Shekhina, one in which he does not view the relationship between man and God as an interesting idea but nothing more. A child feels the presence of his parent and maintains a strong relationship with him, despite the differences in standing between them; this is also true of the relationship between Israel and their Father in Heaven. This is the challenge with which we are faced. A person who feels the responsibility of being a fitting firstborn to God justifies his birthright, but also assumes responsibility. The greater and deeper the responsibility and purpose, the greater the spiritual achievement.


However, the spiritual danger is also greater. The same things that create obstacles in the relationship between a son and his parents are liable to ruin the relationship between man and his Maker. One can encounter a problem in the form of what we saw regarding Esav; a person recognizes the existence of God, but views the connection between him and his Father in Heaven as a means of satisfying his own pleasures and fulfilling his needs. In such a case, his heritage interests him only for the purpose of generating profits, and nothing more. He does not see his heritage as an obligation or mission, but rather as "a spade for digging," a source of personal gain.


Alternatively, there is the situation of Reuven, which is reflected in the feeling that God is "strangling" him, leaving him with insufficient leeway due to the Shekhina's presence in the world. Just like a child rebels when he feels constrained by a parent or when he senses that the parent with his power and status overshadows him and his capabilities, a person's feelings about God may be similar. The proper situation, both with respect to the parent-child relationship and with respect to the relationship between man and God, is that man should find his place within a framework of existing laws and recognize that there are factors above him. Within these boundaries, he will be able to find his uniqueness and express his personal development. A firstborn like Reuven, who feels that he cannot exercise his strengths together with the strengths of God, is a firstborn who lacks the appropriate "recognition."


Let us move from the People of Israel to the Land of Israel. The Land was also given to us as an inheritance and a heritage. Here, too, the aim is to see it as God's inheritance and to reach the realization of "You shall bring them in and plant them in the mountain of Your inheritance" (Shemot 15:17), with the physical land serving as an expression of the spiritual connection and relationship between God and His people. Here, too, however, there is the danger of being caught up in the perspective of profitability and materialism, which views the Land exclusively as a place of leisure and profits. As opposed to "the mountain of Your inheritance," Datan and Aviram view the Land as "an inheritance of fields and vineyards" (Bamidbar 16:14), and nothing more. The children of Reuven and Gad preferred to receive their inheritance on the east bank of the Jordan, as that was advantageous for their animals and business. They did not ask themselves about the effect that their step would have on their inheritance as a sacred place or as the land of their forefathers. In opposition to "an inheritance of fields and vineyards" stands "the mountain of Your inheritance."


Furthermore, since the inheritance is not land but rather a heritage, it exists, under certain condition, even without land. Not only is there the mountain of Your inheritance, but God is also the inheritance of the priests and Levites, substituting for the inheritance of land. We not only have God’s intention "to give it to you for a heritage" (Shemot 6:8), but also "Moshe commanded us the Torah, the inheritance of the congregation of Yaakov" (Devarim 33:4). Needless to say, the fitting situation for the ordinary person is the realization of the two inheritances, both of the Land and of the Torah. At times, however, it is one heritage that sustains us, while the other is missing. This was the case throughout the long years of exile, when the heritage of the Torah allowed Israel to survive in the lands of their dispersion. Similarly, in recent generations, the secular Zionist movement adopted for itself the heritage of the Land without a Torah heritage. Indeed, the core challenge facing secular Zionism and the State of Israel in this regard is viewing the country's heritage as an ancestral heritage and an expression of Jewish identity that is connected to the people of Israel throughout the generations, and not only as an inheritance of fields and vineyards.


“A Ladder Set upon the Earth, and the Top of it Reached to Heaven”


The chapter of Yesh Nochalin presents a sublime model of a system of inheritance that depends on the values that we have discussed. Very often, however, reality slaps us in the face. Inheritance disputes are a common and painful phenomenon. Unfortunately, these struggles are widespread and they destroy families. Values and ideals of great importance are shattered against the rocks of family disputes; instead of attaining achievements, they engage in conflict. Instead of the past serving as an inspiration and guide for the future, a person can destroy his future and fill it with conflicts from the past. Instead of the "house" inheriting the deceased and passing the family heritage down to the other members of the house, the house is split and destroyed in the storms of dispute.


One should not make the mistake of thinking that such disputes are driven solely by profits. Often, the conflicts are grounded in what appears to be holiness. Struggles arise around the question of who will be a better successor, who will more faithfully represent the heritage and values of the deceased. Each side is convinced that he alone can express the family truth, while the other side will betray it. He therefore enters into battle against his brothers and sisters, without realizing that he is thereby destroying the family and defying the wishes of the deceased. These "holy fights" create the antithesis of the concept of inheritance.


The challenge of inheritance and creating a heritage is indeed great, and it therefore often leads to tension. Nevertheless, Yesh Nochalin presents us with a meaningful model on the existential level, both with respect to the family and the past and with respect to our lives with God. May we merit to meet these challenges.



(This sicha was delivered in summer 5767 [2007]. The original Hebrew adaptation was reviewed by Rav Mosheh Lichtenstein.)


[1] This is true on the fundamental level, as is stated in the mishna in Bekhorot. In this context, we will not consider the dispute between Abba Shaul and the Sages.

[2] Most authorities are uncomfortable even with one who donates all of his property to charity. 

[3] As a result, someone whose status is in doubt is excluded from the law of the birthright: "A son and not a tumtum [a person of undetermined gender]; a firstborn, and not a doubtful firstborn." This is also the basis for the law of "recognition," which according to many authorities is not based on credibility, but on the creation of a connection between father and son, credibility being the byproduct.

[4] See the commentators ad loc., especially Ibn Ezra and Seforno. Rashi apparently understood differently and deliberately chose to deviate from the plain meaning of the birthright.