Should the “Firstborn” Become King? Learn about the roles of Yehuda and Yoseph
In previous posts , we spoke of Esav selling his “Firstborn rights” to his brother Yaakov. We also discussed how the “right” to be the King of the 12 tribes was granted to Yehuda.
This is a cause of confusion because in theory, the firstborn should be given the role of not only leader of the people (King) but also the spiritual teacher (Priest) of the nation. In practice, we see these roles, rights of inheritance and blessings don’t always seem to go to the firstborn.
The Torah portion “VaYechi” adds to the confusion when Yaakov gives his “blessings” to the tribes, letting them know what their fate will be (Genesis 49:1-28) . Reuven is told that he is the chronological “First Born” but will not be given any of the related roles because of his previous actions. Yehuda is told that he will be the physical leader (King), and that his brothers will “bow down” to him. And Joseph gets the double portion of the firstborn inheritance by turning his two sons, Ephraim and Menashe into full-fledged tribes!
This confusion led to the following question from one of our subscribers this week:
Who inherits the firstborn rights and where is that found in the Torah? What are the first born rights exactly? Was the kingship given to David’s descendant and NOT to the tribe of Judah?
In general, Torah Judaism is not a “rights” based system. It is based on obligations and responsibilities. (IE. the poor don’t have a “right” to be taken care of, we have an “obligation” to take care of the poor)
The First Born
The firstborn son is assumed to take on the responsibility for leading the family when the father passes away.
As the one who assumes leadership of, and responsibility for the family, this is acknowledged by him inheriting a double portion of the father’s estate. For example if there are three brothers, the estate is divided into “four” portions. The firstborn will get two portions and the other brothers will get one each. (Deut. 21:15–17). That is the only “right” the firstborn gets along with his responsibilities.
The government/leadership positions in a Torah government are inherited and therefore follow the laws of inheritance. The firstborn would inherit the father’s position. However, if that son does not accept the responsibility to do the job according to the laws of Torah, he can be passed over to another brother who has shown himself to be worthy.
David’s firstborn did not become king. It was Solomon who ultimately inherited the position. Note that in this week’s portion it is Yoseph who receives the double portion in the Land of Israel. Originally there were 12 tribes. Joseph’s sons were elevated by Yaakov’s blessing to full tribes in Israel. Now there are 13 tribes and Ephraim and Menashe both got a share in the Land (meaning Yoseph got a double portion!). This makes sense because Rachel was Yaakov’s choice for first wife and he was “manipulated” into marrying Leah. Yoseph was the firstborn to Rachel and therefore should have been considered the firstborn of the tribes and leader of the family “business.”
The cloak that Yaakov gave Yoseph acknowledged this “favored” status as “king”. However Yoseph was destined to be “king” outside of the land of Israel. Reuven should have been the firstborn and leader inside the land. But he lost that position because of his actions. Yehudah through his actions showed that he deserved the leadership position in the Land and therefore the “Kingship” position would come from his descendants. Ultimately the most worthy descendant was David (who happened to be the 7th son and NOT the firstborn of Yishai)
Throughout the long exile, it has been the soul of Yoseph and his spiritual influence that has helped take care of, and ensure the physical survival of the Jewish people in exile. (Just like he did as viceroy in Egypt) He is considered the King (Mashiach) of the Jews in exile. His role also involves bringing the Jews physically from the four corners of the earth back to the Land of Israel.
When the people are back in the Land (at least the majority), then David’s descendant can take over as King (Mashiach) of the Jewish people in Israel. That is what is meant that Yoseph and Yehuda will join together as one. May we see it fulfilled speedily in our days.