In the religion of Biblical Israel, as in many societies, being the first-born was of great signficance. In Deuteronomy 21:15-17, we learn the legal impications of first-born status: “If a man has two wives, one loved and the other unloved, and both the loved and the unloved have borne him sons, but the first-born is the son of the unloved one–when he wills his property to his sons, he may 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 first fruit of his vigor, the birthright is his due.”
In this week’s Torah portion, Toldot, it’s as if Rivkah’s twins know that the stakes are high; they seem to be fighting over who emerges from the birth canal first, with the second baby grabbing at his brother’s heel as if to say, “me first.” But in the first scene of interaction between the brothers, they seem to have distinctly different attitudes toward the bekhorah, the birthright. Ya’akov demands that Esav sell it to him, and Esav barely hesitates.
All this seems counter-intuitive. Can one actually purchase first-born status? It would seem that one cannot rewrite birth chronology–as the passage from Deuteronomy indicates. One’s first-born is one’s first-born, like him (and his mother) or not. What is the story of the birthright really about? We’ll look at this on Shabbat morning, and I’ll share some thoughts about its programmatic namesake.
Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom,