Follow The JC on Twitter
Bechor means firstborn, referring both to children and livestock in the Bible. The variant bikurim refers to the harvest’s first fruits. All first issues must be brought before God in a symbolic act of recognition that all our fruits are really God’s and not our own.
Genesis is among many things a story of the bechor not taking the lead. Ishmael and Esau do not carry on Abraham’s legacy. Reuben is a failed leader, whose calls to spare Joseph are ignored by his brothers. Jacob calls him as “my first issue . . . first fruit of my vigour” but also “unstable as water”. It is Judah, the fourth-born, who becomes the leader of the nation. Jacob tells him, “The sceptre shall not depart from Judah.”
Joseph, who knew too well the trouble favouritism could bring upon a family, was disconcerted to see his father blessing the second-born Ephraim with his right hand. “Not so, father, . . . for the other is the bechor.” Yet because Jacob knew that Ephraim would be a tribe of great leaders, he gave him the blessing of the bechor.