The Struggle for Primogeniture - since then and forever

Parsha and its fulfillment - Parashat Vayishlach - Rabbi Eliezer Shenvald- 5769

The fateful encounter between Yaacov and Eisav, when Yaacov is coming from Lavan to the Land of Israel is also the decisive stage in the “struggle over the birthright”. A struggle that has already begun at birth! With Yaacov holding Eisav's heel in order to go out first, as if to say he deserves the primogeniture (Rashi, Bereshit 25:26) In fact, the struggle begins already in the womb (Rashi ibid. 22).

A significant stage in the struggle was the "sale of the birthright" (Bereshit 25:29). Eisav returns from the field, his life's work, tired and mentally exhausted. He is willing to sell his natural birthright for a 'lentil stew'. The birthright is no longer important to him. He does not see it as an asset that will give him privilege and economic benefit (Ibn Ezra, Bereshit 25:34). The significance of the birthright remains only in the moral dimension - to take responsibility, to lead, to influence and to make a mark. And in the spiritual dimension - in the future priesthood, Eisav was willing to give it up.

The Birthright coin has two sides: the “crown of the firstborn” - the senior status given to the eldest in the family. And "the price of the birthright" - carrying a more demanding commitment than the rest of the family and the leadership.

Eisav gives up his birthright by choice. He did not have the strength to bear the "price of the birthright," and the moral and spiritual dimensions are no longer meaningful to him. On the other hand, Yaakov is highly motivated to win the primogeniture, and he is also prepared to pay the "price of the firstborn."

After, Eisav regretted the sale, and did not accept the loss of its privileges. (Rashbam Bereshit 25:34), perhaps also because he later understood that the birthright conferred him the right on the Land of Israel (Kuzari 2:14), and Yitzchak's blessing validated Jacob's new position (Bereshit 27:28). Eisav's frustration at the loss of the birthright deteriorated into hostility as he plans to assassinate Yaacov.

In our Parsha, the struggle is defeated. Eisav returns to the land of Edom from Yaacov, who continues on his way, as the "oldest," to Eretz Israel (Bereshit 33: 16-18).

Since the dawn of history, between Cain and Abel, the "struggle for primogeniture" within the family has the explosive potential of hostility and degeneration into violent and murderous violence. Cain was the eldest. However, as opposed to the offering of Abel, who brought of the firstborns of his flock (a "Korban Bechora") and paid from the "best”, Cain is unwilling to "pay" and brings from the casual, “the fruit of the earth”. H’ received Abel's sacrifice: Abel gets the “crown of the firstborn”, and Cain did not reconcile himself on the loss of his birthright to Abel and killed him.

So too between Yitzchak and Ishmael. Ishmael was the firstborn. But in his conduct, he did not match his senior status (Rashi, Bereshit 21: 9) When Yitzchak was born as a firstborn to Sarah, Ishmael saw this as a threat to his birthright, and he tried slyly to assassinate him. Sarah demanded his removal to establish Yitzchak’s firstborn status.

The same in the struggle for the birthright between Yosef and his brothers, which threatened to tear the family apart. Reuven was the eldest. And when Yosef was born, Yaacov sought to prefer him and give him the birthright, "and he made him a striped garment" - "the garment of kingship". This led to hatred from the brothers who wanted to kill him. In the end Yosef received the “crown of the firstborn” when he became viceroy of Egypt (Genesis 49:26).

Sometimes the struggle for primogeniture is within the nuclear family and sometimes the struggle is within the broad national family. As in the struggle for the birthright between Shaul and David. Shaul chased after David to kill him. And between Rehobam and Jerobam. Which led to the rupture of the kingdom, wars and ultimately exile.

A positive and opposite example is found between Moshe and Aharon. When Moshe was sent to lead the people of Israel, he asked the H’, to preserve Aharon's birthright, as the leader of the people of Egypt (Rashi, Shmot 4:13). But G-d does not accept his request and tells him that Aaron will give him, the "crown of the birthright," with nobility, willingly and joyfully. Other examples are found in Menashe and Ephraim, and later between David and his brothers, and between David and Jonathan.

The "crown of the birthright" is not an eternal asset. In the way of the world when the time comes, the carriers of the crown change. Sometimes because other people, that are more motivated want to win the "crown of the birthright" and they make an effort and pay the price for it. And sometimes they even struggle in order to inherit and receive the "crown of the birthright". But then the bearers of the crown may react forcefully and even violently to the point of murder. Sometimes they wrap the struggle in an ideological guise, which they seem to be fighting for, in order to disguise the real motive. And sometimes the "crown of the birthright" bearers wear down by "the price of the birthright" and give it up voluntarily. And then someone who comes in line gets it, even if he did not want it in the first place.

We must learn for generations that where a Struggle for Primogeniture arises, we must adopt the model of Moshe and Aharon. As Hillel wrote: "He is one of the disciples of Aharon who loves peace and pursues peace" (Avot 1:12).

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