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.