If you’re like many Americans, you spent some time this spring living vicariously as citizens of the Commonwealth, anticipating the arrival of a second child to Prince William and Duchess Kate. Though we can assume baby Princess Charlotte will be her older brother’s equal in the eyes of her parents, in the royal line of succession, she will always be behind him. Prince George has the same parents, the same upbringing, and the same lineage, yet as heirs to the British throne, he will always be ahead of his sister. Tough break. And if you’re up on your royal family knowledge, you also know that both Prince George and Princess Charlotte are in line ahead of their uncle, Prince Harry. Tougher break.
In this case there was no “picking” a favorite. Will and Kate have no choice in the matter; they are bound by a set of laws that have been in existence for centuries. In fact, similar rules even go back to the Torah in parshat Ki Tetzei, which we read this week.
This portion of Torah contains in it more laws than any other single portion of Torah. In it we have laws that govern our fields, our interactions with others, how we treat ourselves, returning lost items, signs of purity, merits involved in various acts, and a whole lot more. But among the first items the text covers are the laws of a first-born.
The text states:
“If a man has two wives, one that he loves and another that he hates, and the one he hates gives him a child first, he must not treat as first-born the son of the loved one in disregard of the son of the unloved one who is older. Instead, he must accept the first-born, the son of the unloved one, and allot to him a double portion of all he possesses; since he is the fruit of his vigor, the birthright his due.”
Basically, a child’s rights are to remain intact regardless of whom the mother is or how the child behaves. That child must still be loved and supported.
I often look to the Torah as a guide for how to educate and adapt in today’s world, and this week’s parshah provides us with a deep and meaningful lesson as we begin a new school year. Even though teachers try not to play favorites, that doesn’t mean they won’t have favorites. There will be children we love and children we’d rather not put up with. There will be students and parents who push our buttons, and those who are nothing but understanding. But even if we get on one another’s nerves, we must remember to treat each other with the respect due to other human beings. Each child, each parent, each teacher, each administrator is entitled to the same respect, love, and compassion, no matter what relationship we have with them.
May we always strive to move away from dividing the world between those we love and those we hate, and instead use categories like those we respect, those we admire, those who challenge us to be better, and those who are a gift simply because of their presence in our lives.