First Thing’s First: Bo 2019

by Adam J. Rosenbaum

Pre-Game Chatter: Do you subscribe to the idea that “the early bird gets the worm”? Should someone who arrives first always be given priority over someone who arrives later? Why does arriving first connote special status?

Just before the Israelites depart from Egypt, God reminds them that the first-borns of all families are special in God’s eyes:

The Pitch: “‘Consecrate to Me every male first-born; human and beast, the first [male] issue of every womb among the Israelites is Mine.’” – Exodus 13:2

Swing #1: “When God said to Moshe, ‘My first born son is Israel,’ this implied that he had other children. Every nation is a child of God, for every human being was created in the divine image. At the moment of theophany, when God revealed himself to the Jewish people and gave us the Torah, we were chosen as the am segulah (a treasured nation), but God did not abandon the rest of the world. We are God’s firstborn – and a critical task of a firstborn child is to be a role model and an effective teacher for the other children. This is accomplished not only through learning but by setting an example in our daily lives of sanctifying the divine name: behaving honestly and treating others with dignity. A Jew who commits a crime violates the teaching of ‘My first-born son is Israel.’” – Rabbi Avishai C. David, Darosh Darash Yosef: Discourse of Rav Yosef Dov HaLevi Soloveitchik on the Weekly Parashah

Swing #2: “Our daughters ask: And what if the first issue of the womb is a daughter? Doesn’t she also belong to God? Miriam the Prophet answers: Although Judaism has no ritual for consecrating or redeeming her, we can create one. For she too occupies a special place in her parents’ hearts, as the first fruit of God’s bounty. Lilith the Rebel protests: We no longer need to sacrifice one child for the sake of another, or single out one child as more privileged than another! And since we no longer have a functioning priesthood, there’s no need to redeem our children in order to exempt them from sacred service. So we don’t need to add yet another redemption ceremony. We should abolish them all!” – Ellen Frankel, The Five Books of Miriam

Swing #3: “As Morton Smith reminds us, the Hebrew Bible is dominated by particular ideologies that may well be at odds with the unprinted, cultural attitudes of the majority of Israelites who did not get the last word, and their attitudes are never completely covered up. They are found in polemics, in laden silences, in some of the methinks-he-doth-protest-too-much frameworks of the Hebrew Bible. Thus the Hebrew Bible insists that first-born humans not be offered in sacrifice but be redeemed side by side with the less nuanced statement that ‘Whatever is the first to open the womb among the Israelites, of human beings and animals, is mine.’” – Susan Niditch, War in the Hebrew Bible

Late-Inning Questions: According to our commentators, what is the significance of God “possessing” the first-born of every family? Why do you think the law is mentioned immediately prior to the Exodus? When is it a blessing to finish first, and when is it a burden?

On-Deck at Emanu-El: We can’t wait for our 8th annual Jews, Brews, and Ques Kosher Cookout, this Sunday, January 13th! Please join us to be a part of one of the great programs in Jewish Charleston. Tickets are still available, so contact the office today at 843-571-3264.

The Big Inning at the End: Speaking of arriving first, Bob Watson of the Houston Astros scored the one millionth run in Major League history on May 4, 1975, by scoring from second base on a home run by his teammate Milt May. Knowing he was on the precipice of history, Watson sprinted to home plate. Had he not done so, Dave Concepcion of the Cincinnati Reds would have scored the magic run; Watson crossed home plate in San Francisco about two seconds before Concepcion did in Cincinnati. For his hustle, Watson won a wristwatch and 1,000,000 Tootsie Rolls.

Shabbat Shalom!