Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Bechor and Ben - two opinions

Here's a case of outright disagreement by two important figures of our generation. I don't know if these two opinions can be reconciled. We have Rav Joseph Soloveitchik on one side and Rav Avigdor Miller on the other. As you shall see, they completely disagree with one another on a subject near and dear to many who follow the Torah Im Derech Eretz path of life.

Rav Joseph Soloveitchik:

What the Almighty God said, בני בכורי, what is the conclusion that is to be drawn from it? If I say, “he's my oldest” or “he's my bechor”, it means that I have more children. He is the oldest, but there are many more children. When God told Moshe, “say to Pharaoh, Yisrael is my son, he is my bechor”, what does it mean? God has more children, He has many sons. Otherwise, the expression 'beni bechori' is inappropriate. If one has a single son he would say 'beni yechidi', like “your son, your only son who you love” (Bereishis 22:2). But now it's 'beni bechor'. 

(Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchi, The Rav Thinking Aloud on Shemos, p. 50)

Every nation is a son of HaKadosh Baruch Hu. (See also Rabbeinu Ephraim, p. 176 and Chizkuni on the passuk)

(Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchi, The Rav Thinking Aloud on Shemos, p. 50)

Rabbi Avigdor Miller:

Question: The Rav said that only the Am Yisroel are the “banim” of Hashem. But doesn’t the posuk of “b’ni bichori Yisroel,” imply that while we are His bechor, but that the other nations are also considered His children?

Rav Miller: Look, he’s asking a good question. Nothing wrong with a little lomdus. If it says, “b’ni bichori Yisroel,” that they are my firstborn, that implies that the rest of the nations are not “bechorim,” but they’re at least “banim.” The answer is – No! Am Yisroel are “banim” and nobody else is “banim.” But not only are they “banim,” but they’re beloved like “b’ni bichori.” That’s what it means.

“Banim atem la’shem Elokeichem.” It doesn’t say, “bechorim atem la’shem Elokeichem.” Banim atem!  Atem! Only you are “banim” to me. Nobody else. Only that, not only are you “banim,” but you are beloved to me like a bechor. Because a bechor is especially beloved. That’s all that it means.

TAPE #E-207

Note, Rav Miller does say elsewhere that if you were to put the entire physical universe on one side of a scale and a Fiji Islander on the other, the Fiji Islander would greatly outweigh the physical universe in importance. He says also, we don't hate the goyim, we just don't mingle with them. We are kindly toward everyone. 

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