Parashat Shemot 5769/ January 17, 2009
the weekly Torah reading by the faculty of
In Exodus (4:22) Moses
is commanded to tell Pharaoh: “Thus says
The laws of the Torah show us the privileged status enjoyed by the first-born son. He was “master over his brothers” and respected by them. The first-born also received a double portion of the inheritance of his father (Deut. 21:17) and enjoyed other benefits. However, countering what we have said above, we note that in biblical stories the preferred son is not necessarily the first-born: Cain (the first-born) and his brother Abel gave offerings to the Lord, “but to Cain and his offering He paid no heed” (Gen. 4:5), while Abel’s offering was willingly accepted. This well-known story ended in murder, with the mark of Cain being placed on the brow of the world’s first first-born son.
begot Abram, Nahor and
Abraham’s wife Sarah was
barren, and after living in
The contest over the birthright between the twins, Esau and Jacob, began from the moment of their birth, with Jacob’s hand grabbing Esau’s heel, as if to prevent him from coming into the world first. As a grown man Esau sold his birthright to Jacob for a bowl of lentil stew.
Jacob received his father’s blessing, but only by deceitful disguise. Yet ultimately, prior to his departure for Padan-Aram, Isaac blessed him explicitly, knowing that it was Jacob standing before him: “May He grant the blessing of Abraham to you and your offspring, that you may possess the land where you are sojourning, which G-d assigned to Abraham” (Gen. 28:4). Once again, the line of the dynasty slipped out of the first-born’s hands and passed to the second son.
A similar thing happened
While she was in labor, one of them put out his hand, and the midwife tied a crimson thread on that hand, to signify: This one came out first. But just then he drew back his hand, and out came his brother; and she said: “What a breach [Heb. perez] you have made for yourself!” So he was named Perez. Afterward his brother came out, on whose hand was the crimson thread; he was named Zerah.
Perez, who was not the first-born, was the one who became privileged to head the family tree from which King David was descended (see Ruth 4:18).
The same thing repeats
itself with Jacob’s sons. The first-born
Reuben, who fell into sin and violated his father’s wife, was pushed aside and
even rebuked by Jacob in his testament to his children before his death.
In contrast, Jacob’s words to Judah and
Joseph clearly bring out who were the more important and honored of the tribes
Prior to Jacob’s last testament, we witness the special blessing that Jacob gave his grandsons through Joseph: “But Israel [Jacob] stretched out his right hand and laid it on Ephraim’s head, though he was the younger, and his left hand on Manasseh’s head – thus crossing his hands – although Manasseh was the first-born… Thus he put Ephraim before Manasseh” (Gen. 48:14-20).
Throughout the biblical
narrative we see that the first-born is pushed aside.
That being the case, what force does the
divine proclamation, “
We must not forget that
historically and chronologically the people of
So we conclude that the
The fate of our people
appears to be a fulfillment of the verse:
“For whom the Lord loves, He rebukes, as a father the son whom he
favors” (Prov. 3:12). Being the
first-born son of the Lord does not give the people of