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Coats, Dreams and Jealousy
Video 12 of 21
It's as if here's Jacob up here and then a generation later here is Joseph and Joseph just reminds Jacob of himself, it's as if Joseph is like destined to carry forward Jacob's legacy. Maybe that's a really good word here, legacy. Jacob sees Joseph as his legacy, the one who is going to sort of fill his shoes in the next generation. He looks just like me, he's the child of the woman I always wanted to marry, and strangely, everything that happens to him seems to have happened to me. It's as if I'm looking at him and kind of looking at myself transported forward kind of into the next generation.
Now of course there's a word for this in Hebrew, and the word for it is Bechor. In Hebrew, especially in the Book of Genesis - in the Book of Bereishit, the theme of Bechor is almost the overriding theme in the whole book. Almost all of the conflict revolves around it, and seemingly, that the final conflict in the book, the conflict between Joseph and his brothers, also revolves around it. You have the story of Cain and Abel. Cain is the Bechor, he's the oldest one, Abel seems to supersede him. You have Yitzchak and Yishmael - Isaac and Ishmael, later on, the children of Abraham. Once again, who is the oldest? It's Ishmael. But once again who carries on the legacy, it's Isaac. A generation later of course you have Yaakov and Eisav - Jacob and Esau themselves. One of the best-known examples of this. Of course Esau, the firstborn, Jacob the one who ends up carrying on the legacy of father. Then Jacob's own children. It seems to like be happening again. There's Joseph and then there's the other brothers. Reuven is the oldest brother, a child of Leah, but once again it seems like Joseph is the one who is being treated as the firstborn, being treated as if he's the one who is going to carry on Jacob's legacy.
Maybe one of the tensions or questions in Sefer Bereishit - in the Book of Genesis, is always this question of what does it really mean to be firstborn? Can you be firstborn without actually being the first one who was born? That's really the question in all of these stories.
Then when you think of this question which is, is Joseph the firstborn, is Joseph the Bechor, that's actually not such an easy question to answer. It's actually a little bit murky isn't it? Why is the answer to this so unclear? Well on the one hand Joseph is clearly not the firstborn because Jacob has children who are older - notably his firstborn child, as I mentioned before, is in fact Reuven. But viewed in another kind of way, you could really sort of, kind of, make the argument that Joseph is the firstborn, that he in fact is the firstborn. Why? Because remember Jacob has two wives, so his firstborn child from Leah, the wife that he first marries, actually ends up being Reuven. But - and here's the rub - his firstborn child from Rachel, the wife he had always wanted to marry, the wife that he married second, that ends up being Joseph. So in a way, sort of, kind of, Joseph is the firstborn, he is the firstborn of Rachel, the wife that Jacob always wanted to marry.
Again, coming back to the Medrash, I had always wanted to marry Rachel, the Medrash is saying. It's almost as if Jacob says, well yeah, this doesn't really count, this - I was tricked into this, but this is the child that I was always meant to have, this is the woman I was always meant to marry. Joseph is my real firstborn.
So is it possible that Jacob is treating Joseph as his real firstborn? This, I think, is the really intriguing question, and if you think about the implications of all of this, I think the implications as far as the question of animosity between Joseph and his brothers are really pretty significant. It almost all comes down to that first sentence of the story; These are the generation of Jacob: Joseph. You wonder well what about everybody else?
Especially if you put yourself in the shoes - we're talking about the brothers' perspective - put yourself in the shoes of the brothers, if it's really true that Jacob is treating Joseph as his firstborn, as almost like this is what the coat symbolizes - you remember the special coat - that you're going to be my firstborn, if that's true, if you are Reuven, or one of these older children of Leah, what does that mean to you? If you think about it, to give a very - almost crass - analogy, the only thing worse than insulting a kid on the playground is insulting their mother. It's like, I feel like I have to stand up for the rights of my mother. It's like you're telling me that Joseph is the firstborn, that it's like you didn't have any children before Joseph? Like all of us are chopped liver, we don't count? Not just that we don't count, is that Leah doesn't count, it's that it's almost like she doesn't matter, she didn't even exist. That the only one here is the woman that you were always supposed to marry, Rachel, and this is your firstborn child. Like none of us existed and Leah didn't even exist?
So if this is really true, if this theory is really true, that Jacob is treating Joseph as his firstborn, it's a pretty significant deal. Now the question is, is this true? There's a Medrash that suggests it's true, but only suggests it's true, is there any other evidence for this? I actually think there is. I want you to look carefully at the story, read through Chapter 37 again, is there any other evidence for this idea that Jacob seems to be treating Joseph as his firstborn? We're going to come back and talk about this further, I'll see you then.
1. What Were They Thinking?
2. Building Tensions
3. From Hatred to Jealousy
4. What Was Jacob Thinking?
5. A Break From the Action
6. The Original Internet
7. The Hidden Hyperlinks
8. A Confluence of Echoes
9. Where Have I Heard This Before?
10. The Brothers' Perspective
11. When Three Are One
12. Will the Real Firstborn Please Stand Up?
13. Bechor: A Tale of Twos
14. Rabbi Soloveitchik's Theory
15. Joseph's Undershirt
16. The Meaning of the Second Coat
17. Four Links
18. Double Entendre
19. The Riddle of the Bowing Moon
20. The Hidden Angel
21. Chain of Words
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